More Americans Than Ever Can’t Afford to Pay Their Electric Bill

With more people owing more money, utilities are getting more aggressive about cutting off delinquent customers. Many states imposed shutoff moratoriums during the pandemic, but those policies wound down just as record inflation made power – and almost everything else — more costly. 

That’s going to trigger a “tsunami of shutoffs,” Jean Su, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg News for a story I co-wrote this week on the coming crisis.  

The basic problem is that electricity is more expensive, up 15% from a year ago, and there’s no sign of relief. That’s because power prices are linked to the cost of natural gas, which has more than doubled in the past year and is expected to remain high at least into next year. 

Meanwhile, climate change has triggered extreme heat around the world, driving up power consumption, and power bills, as people seek refuge in air-conditioning. And in many hot regions, cooling isn’t just for comfort — people who lose power during a stifling heat wave can die. While 41 states have some kind of protection against winter shutoffs for exactly this reason, only 19 have similar policies for the sweltering summer months. New Orleans last month asked its local utility to halt summer shutoffs as temperatures climbed, and this is going to become more urgent amid the global climate crisis. 

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