Utility companies have cut off customers’ electricity an estimated 4.2 million times during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity, BailoutWatch, and the Energy and Policy Institute reveals. The first 10 months of 2022 saw 29% increases in electricity shutoffs and 76% more methane gas shutoffs over the same period the previous year.
The report also shows the extent to which major utilities are prioritizing shareholder profits and corporate compensation over their customers’ wellbeing. The 12 companies — led by NextEra, Duke Energy, and Exelon — responsible for 86% of shutoffs from Oct. 2020 to Oct. 2022 could have avoided shutting off power and gas to their customers behind on their bills by reducing shareholder dividends over the same period by 1%. They also paid their top executives an average of $5.9 million, per executive, per year.
“That was one of the data points that really hit home because that’s just such a small scrape of the amount of money that utilities are shelling out to shareholders that could really change lives in millions of households,” CBD’s Selah Goodson Bell, a co-author of the report, told The Guardian. Illinois had the most shutoffs of any state included in the report. Florida utilities probably shut off their customers’ utilities more, but Florida no longer requires utilities to track disconnections. (The Guardian, Bloomberg $, The Hill; Illinois: Chicago Sun-Times, NBC Chicago)