E&C Leaders Demand Answers from Utility Companies on Alarmingly High Shutoff Rates During COVID-19 Pandemic
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote to six utility companies today demanding answers for high customer shutoff rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letters were sent to the executives of Dominion Energy, DTE Energy, Duke Energy, Exelon, NextEra Energy, and Southern Company.
The Committee leaders explain that the utilities had made assurances at the start of the pandemic, both to the public and to the Committee, that a federal mandatory shutoff moratorium was not necessary because a patchwork of state and local moratoriums had already begun to take shape and was sufficient to address shutoff concerns.
“Despite broad assurances from the electric utility industry in early 2020, we have seen alarming reports of high customer shutoff rates during the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for certain utilities, including yours,” the three Committee leaders wrote to the six utility company executives.
Pallone, Rush, and DeGette pointed to a September 2021 report entitled Powerless in the Pandemic which identified electric utilities that lobbied against a federal shutoff moratorium, received Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding, and still shut off utilities for customers. The report found that American families had their power cut nearly one million times between July 2020 and June 2021 by 16 utilities that also received $1.25 billion in federal aid. This money, the report argues, would be more than enough to cover the costs of the power shutoffs.
The Committee leaders went on to note that Congress took crucial steps to help reduce the financial impact of the pandemic and rising energy prices by allocating additional funding to assistance programs – including $5.4 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan. Congress then passed an additional $500 million for LIHEAP and $3.5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“We understand that federal money received by utilities over the course of the pandemic has multiple applications, but we are disturbed by the alarming reports of shutoffs over the last two years,” the three Committee leaders continued in their letters. “Additionally, as state shutoff moratoriums expire, we are concerned about the financial pressure on customers. Therefore, we write to collect additional data on the shutoff and arrearage numbers in your service territory, and to ensure that vulnerable Americans are protected.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, in the last year, 29 percent of Americans surveyed had to reduce or forego expenses for basic necessities to pay an energy bill.
As part of their inquiry, the three Committee leaders requested an array of answers and information, including:
- Current arrearage data for residential customers, including how many receive LIHEAP assistance;
- Electricity shutoff data for 2019, 2020, and 2021, and the average duration of shutoffs;
- Total arrearage data for 2019, 2020, and 2021;
- A summary of each company’s shutoff policies when there is no active moratorium;
- Each company’s plan for addressing the needs of their most vulnerable customers, and whether any shutoff moratoriums are currently in effect;
- A description of any programs or assistance being offered specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what is being offered to low-income customers;
- An assessment of energy assistance in each company’s service territory; and
- A summary of whether supplemental LIHEAP assistance provided through COVID-19 relief bills helped avert shutoffs, and whether LIHEAP assistance received met the needs of each territory.
Pallone, Rush, and DeGette requested answers by April 4, 2022. Full text of the letters is available here: