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'Life and Death' Crisis as Utilities Cut Power to Over 765,000 Across 10 States During Pandemic

"The Biden administration needs to impose a nationwide shutoffs moratorium immediately," said report author Greer Ryan.

Powerlines extend toward the horizon as the sun sets in the west. (Photo Matt Wiebe/Flickr/cc)

A new report from the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that utility companies in just 10 states have shut off power to more than 750,000 homes since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Matt Wiebe/Flickr/cc)

Utility companies in just 10 states have reported more than 750,000 residential electricity shutoffs since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic—with one Florida firm accounting for a third of the power cuts—according to a report published Tuesday by the Center for Biological Diversity. 

"The Covid-19 pandemic and Texas energy crisis have both highlighted a crucial fact: Losing power can be lethal."
—Center for Biological Diversity

The report, entitled Power Crisis (pdf), found that electric companies "have performed at least 765,262 household disconnects" in 10 states, with the "overwhelming majority" of the shutoffs occurring due to customer non-payment. 

To prepare the report, the CBD surveyed utility commissions in all 50 states to detemine whether they collect data on customer disconnections due to non-payment. The vast majority of states do not require power companies to disclose their household shutoff data. Only 20 state utility commissions offer concise disconnection data; 10 of these have enacted shutoff moratoria and therefore reported zero disconnections. 

The report focuses on the 10 states without moratoria that disclose their disconnection data: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

According to the report, major private utilites that disproportionately disconnect service include:

  • Duke Energy, which reported nearly 98,000 disconnects across three states (Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina), equivalent to 2% of the company's customers in those states; 
  • Georgia Power, which reported more than 131,000 disconnects since July, equivalent to 6% of the company's customers; and
  • Florida Power & Light, which reported more than 255,000 disconnects since October, equivalent to 3% of the company's customers. 

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"The Covid-19 pandemic and Texas energy crisis have both highlighted a crucial fact: Losing power can be lethal," the report states. "This makes energy access a critical human right. Yet families continue to lose power not only because of extreme weather and other climate-fueled disasters, but also because of utility greed and government failures to regulate. When Americans cannot pay their essential utility bills, they risk being disconnected from life-sustaining services."

 "Families continue to lose power not only because of extreme weather and other climate-fueled disasters, but also because of utility greed and government failures to regulate."
—CBD

Greer Ryan, an energy policy analyst at the CBD and author of the report, said in a statement that "these alarming shutoff numbers from just 10 states suggest a much broader problem for families across the United States."

"Being cut off from electricity is devastating under any circumstance, but it's a matter of life and death during a pandemic when the best defense against disease is to stay home," she added. "The Biden administration needs to impose a nationwide shutoffs moratorium immediately."

The new report comes just three days after activists rallied outside the Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, D.C. urging President Joe Biden to issue a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs.

"It's been one year since [Covid-19] started ravaging the country, but Congress, the president, and local officials are still not protecting access to life-saving utility services," CBD energy justice campaigner Gaby Sarri-Tobar said at the demonstration. 

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