Utilities shut off power to homes nearly 6 million times during pandemic: report
Utility companies in the U.S. have disconnected customers an estimated 5.7 million times since 2020, according to a new report.
The disconnections have come even as those companies have paid billions to shareholders and executives, according to a report published on Monday by the Center for Biological Diversity, BailoutWatch and the Energy and Policy Institute.
“No one should ever have to choose between having food on the table and keeping the heat on,” Selah Goodson Bell, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program, said in a statement.
“It’s inexcusable for utility executives and shareholders to profit while Americans suffer climate extremes and get punished for being poor,” he added.
Fossil fuel market upheaval and extreme weather drove electric and gas disconnections to new heights in 2022, the advocacy groups found.
They estimated that the first 10 months of 2022 saw 29 percent more power disconnections and 76 percent more gas disconnections than in the same period of 2021.
Just 12 companies were responsible for 86 percent of these shutoffs from 2020 to October 2022.
These companies — led by NextEra Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Exelon Corp. — could have avoided turning off power or gas to late-paying residents at the cost of just 1 percent of the dividends doled out to shareholders over the same period, the group charged.
Over three years, starting in 2019, these companies spent $2.8 billion on salaries for approximately 70 top executives — an average of around $5.9 million per executive per year.
Chris McGrath, a spokesperson for NextEra subsidiary Florida Power & Light (FPL), told The Hill that the allegations were “false” and that most disconnections were reconnected within 24 hours.
During the pandemic, “FPL provided customers $75 million in financial assistance through various initiatives, including ongoing bill credits for eligible low-income and small business customers,” McGrath said.
“Disconnections for nonpayment have always been a last resort and a decision we don’t take lightly,” he added.
An Exelon spokesperson wrote that “disconnections are a last resort to protect customers from arrearages so substantial that they may never recover.”
She also cited Exelon’s connection of its customers with more than a billion in federal aid in 2021 and 2022 to help them pay their bills.
The Hill also reached out to Duke for comment.
The estimate of 5.7 million cutoffs is based on guesswork — which the activists argue is a large part of the problem.
Utilities cut off power to households 1.5 million times from January 2022 to October 2022 in 30 states and Washington, D.C., that require disclosure of power shutoffs.
But the advocacy groups found that state regulators in 40 percent of states don’t require that disclosure. Florida, the state with the most shutoffs, stopped providing data in late 2021.
If shutoff rates in those states that don’t require disclosure match the rates of those that do, they would account for an additional 4.2 million household disconnections across the U.S.
Shelby Green, a research fellow at the Energy and Policy Institute, stated that utilities nationwide are raising their prices to cope with the significant cost increase of methane gas.
Green added that the ongoing expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure will expose consumers to “more price shocks” — which the campaigners said would increase customers’ vulnerability to having their power cut off.
Updated: 4:26 p.m.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.