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‘Tsunami of Shutoffs’: 20 Million US Homes Behind On Electric Bills

electricity shut off notice

Adrienne Nice woke up early on the morning of July 25 to news she’d been dreading. The power company, Xcel Energy Inc., had shut off the electricity to the small Minneapolis apartment she shares with her teenage son, just as a heat wave was bearing down on the city.

Nice had been struggling financially ever since the pandemic hit, racking up more than $3,000 in past-due utility bills. [bold, links added]

The warnings she’d gotten on her monthly statement—“FINAL NOTICE” scrawled in big, bold letters—had prepared her to some degree, but it was still jarring to find the fridge dark and the air conditioner silent.

With temperatures set to reach 95°F (35°C) in the coming days, she needed the power back on, and fast.

The Nice household is one of some 20 million across the country—about 1 in 6 American homes—that have fallen behind on their utility bills.

It is, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (Neada), the worst crisis the group has ever documented.

Underpinning those numbers is a blistering surge in electricity prices, propelled by the soaring cost of natural gas.

The power bill crisis is even more acute in Europe, where the spike in natural gas prices has been far greater in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Policymakers there have sprung into action, throwing billions of euros in aid at struggling families to help them pay bills.

There’s been no meaningful talk of doing anything on a similar scale in the US, where the handwringing has been dedicated, as always, to the gyrations of gasoline prices at the pump.

Utility shutoffs can have deadly consequences, though, a risk that’s becoming more palpable as summer heat shatters records.

Already gut-punched by soaring prices for just about everything, more and more people are facing a choice between food, housing, and keeping the power on.

“I expect a tsunami of shutoffs,” says Jean Su, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks utility disconnections across the US.

Read rest at Bloomberg

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