For Immediate Release, January 30, 2023
Selah Goodson Bell, Center for Biological Diversity, (404) 903-6803, firstname.lastname@example.org
Report: U.S. Utilities Shut Off Power 5.7 Million Times as Shareholders, Executives Raked in Billions
WASHINGTON— Utility companies have disconnected U.S. households more than 5.7 million times since 2020 while shelling out billions to shareholders and top executives, according to Powerless in the U.S., a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity, Energy and Policy Institute and BailoutWatch.
This report is the third installment in the Powerless in the Pandemic series, which tracks the worrying rise of utility shutoffs in the face of corporate profiteering that harms customers and the climate.
In 2022 electricity and gas disconnections jumped compared to the year before, led by fossil fuel price volatility, which hurt households of color in particular, the report found. Utilities in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri were responsible for about two-thirds of the more than 1.5 million 2022 shutoffs documented nationwide.
“When keeping the lights on becomes a priority, we can't even talk about other basic necessities like water, education, food and healthcare,” said Wykeisha Howe, a Georgia Power customer in Atlanta. “Think about the mental toll it takes on a person who is trying to balance their finances. We have a utility commission that is supposed to look out for the people, but that doesn't happen at all.”
Twenty states don’t require utilities to report any information on household disconnections, but if disconnection rates were consistent across the country there would have been an estimated 4.2 million household shutoffs in the first 10 months of 2022.
“No one should ever have to choose between having food on the table and keeping the heat on,” said Selah Goodson Bell, a campaigner with the Center’s energy justice program. “Our government and regulators must confront this racist, fossil-fueled energy system that shackles millions of families to a lifetime of debt while blocking access to renewable energy solutions like rooftop solar. It’s inexcusable for utility executives and shareholders to profit while Americans suffer climate extremes and get punished for being poor.”
The shutoffs epidemic has intensified as households face electricity and heating bills that have spiked beyond their ability to pay, driven by volatile global fossil gas prices, Russia’s war on Ukraine, inflation and ever-rising energy needs fueled by the climate catastrophe, the report found. Private utility companies cushion themselves from fossil gas volatility by raising household energy bills to cover fuel costs, prioritizing their bottom lines at the expense of customers’ safety and well-being, and removing any incentive to divest from climate-incompatible infrastructure.
“Utilities across the country are increasing rates to pay for the dramatic price spikes of methane gas,” said Shelby Green of the Energy and Policy Institute. “These companies also continue to expand fossil fuel infrastructure, which will cause customers to experience more price shocks. Customers can’t afford this energy system. Without immediate solutions, those without the means will be left behind while utility executives continue to line their pockets.”
The report found that 12 companies perpetrated the majority of shutoffs from 2020 through October 2022. These Hall of Shame companies — led by NextEra Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Exelon Corp. — could have prevented all these documented shutoffs with just 1% of the dividends paid out to their shareholders over the same period.
“Utility shutoffs are an inhumane reflection of these companies’ true motives: Enriching those with the most power, even if it means leaving families without any power at all,” said Christopher Kuveke of BailoutWatch. “It’s simply cruel to allow this abuse when we know the companies could easily afford to provide essential services for families facing tough economic times.”
The report’s other key findings include:
Last December’s tragic winter storm was the latest climate-driven disaster to expose the vulnerabilities of the fossil fuel-reliant energy system. Heat waves, freezes and floods throughout the year demonstrated how climate-fueled extreme weather drives up demand for electricity and heat and worsens the threat of utility disconnections.
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.
The Energy and Policy Institute is a watchdog organization working to expose attacks on renewable energy and counter misinformation by fossil fuel and utility interests.
BailoutWatch is a nonpartisan watchdog that tracks federal stimulus efforts and subsidies, and how energy companies are cashing in.