For Immediate Release, June 15, 2021
Greer Ryan, (812) 345-8571, GRyan@biologicaldiversity.org
Data From 17 States Shows Over 1 Million Power Shutoffs During Pandemic
WASHINGTON— More than 1 million household electricity shutoffs have occurred in 17 states since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an updated analysis of state utility commission data released today by the Center for Biological Diversity. Georgia Power, for example, reported shutoffs equivalent to nearly 8% of its customers.
“The numbers demonstrate we have an ongoing utility shutoffs crisis in this country,” said Greer Ryan, the report’s author and senior energy policy analyst at the Center. “People struggling to make ends meet and pay their utility bills are at a greater disadvantage during this pandemic because of high unemployment and mounting debt. We must ensure that struggling families have access to water, electricity and internet by imposing a nationwide shutoffs moratorium immediately.”
These findings come as legislation for a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs is under consideration in Congress.
Democratic House Representatives Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman recently introduced a resolution that calls for transforming the country’s largely investor-owned energy system into a publicly owned system where shutoffs are prohibited.
In the Senate, Sen. Jeff Merkley has sponsored a bill that would partially forgive debt to electric, water and broadband utilities to cover the cost of uncollected household payments in exchange for a moratorium on shutoffs. According to research by the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, these uncollected payments were estimated to be as high as $32 billion nationwide by December 2020.
A recent University of California, Los Angeles study found that up to one third of households in Los Angeles have utility debt and that 64% of people severely affected are in Latino and Black communities.
Today’s Power Crisis report was published on the same day as a national day of action by activist groups rallying to cancel utility debt. It provides an update of a previous report published in March by the Center. The research surveyed 50 state utility commissions to see if they collect and share data on electric disconnects for nonpayment from regulated utilities. But 23 states do not publicly disclose this information, and 10 other states do report such data but are covered by shutoff moratoria. The available numbers from the 17 states at the center of the report suggest a massive number of disconnects across the country.
Estimates show that people across the country are facing tens of billions in utility debt as a direct result of the pandemic-driven unemployment crisis. Families of color have been disproportionately affected.
“It’s true that these numbers are alarming, but we’re also working in the dark in many states,” said Ryan. “It’s shocking that so many utility commissions don’t disclose shutoff data. There needs to be increased transparency and accountability for utilities so that we can improve access and affordability for all.”
Losing essential utility services can be a life-or-death issue, and it disproportionately harms low-wealth communities and those of color. Research has shown that if there had been a nationwide utility-shutoff moratorium in place since March 2020, as many as 87,000 lives lost to COVID might have been saved.
Duke Energy, Georgia Power and Florida Power & Light report shutoffs equivalent to 3.1% of their customers in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia since July. If this percentage were applied to total U.S. households, it would equal nearly 3.74 million shutoffs.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.