The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Utility Shutoffs Spiraling out of Control

Feb 6, 2023

Utility shutoffs for nonpayment are increasing, according to a report, “Powerless in the United States.” Electric companies cut off power to households more than 1.5 million times from January through October of 2022 in 30 states and Washington, D.C. where data is available. The seven worst offending utilities’ disconnections equaled 3% of their total customers. If this rate prevailed across the U.S., the report estimates a total of 4.2 million household disconnections in the first 10 months of 2022.

Ten states accounted for nearly 84% of the shutoffs documented by the report. Those states in order of most shut-offs are: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Maryland, Connecticut, Kentucky, and New York. Seven utilities perpetrated the most shutoffs. Two of them, Exelon Corporation and DTE Energy, include half of those top ten states.

Illinois leads the nation in electric shutoffs. Two investor-owned utilities, Exelon’s Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren reported 225,827 and 57,888 disconnections in Illinois, respectively. Illinois gas utilities also reported a combined 82,496 shutoffs for nonpayment last year. Illinois is one of the many states where shutoffs resumed in 2021 after the expiration of COVID-related moratoriums.

Maryland saw an 80% increase in disconnections from 2021 to 2022 and came in seventh for most cut-offs. Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BG&E), and Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) are both owned by parent company, Exelon. In fact, Exelon is the parent company for utilities in Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

DTE Energy which provides electricity and gas to customers in Michigan reported 128,806 electric and gas cut-offs last year. “Whether it’s the middle of winter, heat of summer, DTE doesn’t care. No thought or respect to consumers; shameful conduct generally,” according to a DTE customer who was disconnected three times for owing less than $200.

The seriousness of the problem was made plain by the late December superstorm that battered the United States. Frozen gas lines and downed power infrastructure led to at least 60 fatalities and left millions of people unsafe, without power and heat.

Access to electricity should be considered a basic human right. Every worker knows that people rely on electricity for water, physical safety, food security (refrigeration), medical care and telecommunications. Disconnections foster instability. Without power, people struggle to maintain employment, keep their kids in school, and even stay alive.

Across the country, utilities are stepping up shutoffs while spending more for executive salaries and shareholder dividends. The utilities that were most active in shutoffs could have avoided all of them by redirecting just 1% of their dividend outlays. The 45 utility companies studied raked in 185 billion dollars in profits in 2021, a 71% increase from 2020.

It’s obvious there was plenty of cash to prevent these shutoffs. But this capitalist economy has nothing to do with what humans need to survive and thrive. No! It is all about making profit and making shareholders—who do no work—happy and fat.

Meanwhile the rest of us, who do the work, who produce the electricity and everything else, are expected to live in the dark and the cold. But we don’t have to accept this situation. It doesn’t have to be this way. And we, who do the work, are exactly the ones who can change things.