Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

power lines

A new report details how private utilities have shut off electricity to U.S. households more than 3.5 million times since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, even amid soaring profits and executive compensation. (Photo: Matt Wiebe/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Utilities Cut Power to Millions of Homes as Profits and Pay Soared: Report

"This moment is a clarion call to the federal government to reform the broken utility power sector, which relentlessly puts profits over people and the planet."

Brett Wilkins

Private utilities have shut off electricity to U.S. households more than 3.5 million times since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, even as the power companies have reaped windfall profits and their executives' compensation has skyrocketed, a report published Monday revealed.

"Utility companies are deliberately prolonging their dependence on fossil fuels and passing volatile fuel prices on to consumers."

The research—entitled Powerless in the Pandemic 2.0—was produced by the advocacy groups Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Bailout Watch as a follow-up to a September 2021 publication that showed how utilities took $1.25 billion in pandemic aid and then disconnected households' electricity nearly a million times.

"Utility companies are deliberately prolonging their dependence on fossil fuels and passing volatile fuel prices on to consumers," Chris Kuveke, data analyst at BailoutWatch, said in a statement. "Our research shows that millions of Americans are disconnected when they can't pay their monthly electric bills, while these utilities pass windfall profits to shareholders and executives through dividends and bonuses."

Among the report's key findings:

  • Utility shutoffs soared 79% from 2020 to 2021;
  • Seven companies—Nextera Energy, Duke Energy, The Southern Co., Exelon Corp., American Electric Power Co., Ameren, and AES Corp.—accounted for 78% of all identified disconnections;
  • Only 33 states and the District of Columbia have made disconnection data public, while 17 states and Puerto Rico do not require private utilities to disclose information about shutoffs; and
  • More than 40% of the disconnections in the report occurred in Florida, while nearly 70% of the shutoffs were in just five states—Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

The alarming rate of utility disconnections, coupled with soaring energy prices resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and fossil fuel industry greed, have created a crisis for low-income households.

"It's appalling that millions of families in the United States have lost electricity while utility oligarchs reap huge windfall payouts," said Jean Su, director of CBD's energy justice program. "Russia's war on Ukraine has only heightened household energy fragility and put more folks at risk. This moment is a clarion call to the federal government to reform the broken utility power sector, which relentlessly puts profits over people and the planet."

The report's authors offer a set of policy recommendations, including recognizing household utility services as a basic human right, creating a federal shutoff database, imposing meaningful oversight on utilities, and transitioning to a renewable energy system.

"The system is failing," the report concludes. "Until it is changed fundamentally, these companies will continue pursuing these same perverse incentives to arrive at the same inhumane conclusions."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Let's Send Ron Johnson Packing': Mandela Barnes Wins Wisconsin Senate Primary

"We're going to the Senate to rebuild the middle class," said Barnes. "We're going to protect the right to choose. We're going to fight to make the American Dream an American reality."

Jake Johnson ·


Global Allies Stand With Walden Bello as Social Justice Champion Posts Bail in the Philippines

"Walden Bello's arrest is a violation of his fundamental rights, an affront to the institutions of Philippine democracy, and a threat to free expression everywhere," said the Progressive International council.

Jessica Corbett ·


Team Trump Reportedly 'Bullish' About Exploiting FBI Raid to Win Reelection

One former Trump aide-turned-"Big Lie" detractor said that the Justice Department may have "just handed Trump" the 2024 GOP nomination "or potentially the presidency."

Brett Wilkins ·


Pentagon Contractors in Afghanistan Pocketed $108 Billion Over 20 Years

Military contracting "obscures where and how taxpayer money flows," and "makes it difficult to know how many people are employed, injured, and killed," said the Costs of War Project report's author.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Enough Is Enough' Campaign Launched in UK to Fight Cost of Living Crisis

"Fair pay, affordable bills, enough to eat, and a decent place to live. These aren't luxuries—they are your rights!"

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo