Which gas utilities left the most low-income families in the cold?
More than 30 million Americans struggle to pay their rising energy bills every month and are at constant risk of having utilities cut off their service — threatening their ability to heat their homes or cook food.
Last year’s dramatic spike in the cost of “natural” gas made this longstanding energy affordability crisis even worse, driving up both gas and electricity bills across the country and leading to record numbers of people getting their utilities disconnected for nonpayment. The price of gas nearly tripled last year, costs that utilities are still passing on to their customers today.
While cutting off service to low-income families, utilities continued to make billions of dollars in extra profit, much of which went to their highly paid executives and CEOs. Research by Bailout Watch, Center for Biological Diversity and Energy and Policy Institute found that in nearly every case, utilities could have kept their most vulnerable customers connected to energy for just a small fraction of their annual profits.
While financial losses from nonpayment are usually a rounding error on the balance sheets of utilities, losing access to energy can be a catastrophe for low-income families. Expensive utility bills are one of the top reasons that people take out predatory payday loans, contributing to a cycle of poverty and an increased chances of experiencing homelessness. And higher energy burdens disproportionately impact communities of color — a legacy of housing discrimination policies that forced them into older, inefficient housing that costs more to heat and cool.
“No one should have to choose between keeping their lights on or putting food on the table, and that’s what it’s come down to for many families,” Lora Gulley, of St. Louis-based Generate Health, told the Missouri Public Service Commission during testimony over a proposed rate hike by Ameren Energy, which led the country in gas customers shut off in 2022.
Data collected from state utility commissions by Bailout Watch shows that some gas utilities were worse than others when it came to cutting off service to low-income households in 2022. Here’s some of the worst offenders:
Ameren, Spire, The Southern Company, UGI (Mountaineer Gas Company), Iberdrola SA (Avangrid, PNM), National Fuel, WEC Energy Group (We Energies, Peoples Gas), NiSource (Columbia Gas, NIPSCO) and Duke Energy are among the leading utilities to shut off gas service for non-payment in 2022.