Launch of the House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation this week in reports of high customer outage rates by six utility companies during the covid-19 pandemic.
The committee gave Dominion Energy, DTE Energy, Duke Energy Corp., Exelon Corp., NextEra Energy and Southern Co. until April 4 to provide customer shutdown data, arrears data and information on energy assistance programs.
“Despite broad reassurances from the electric utility industry in early 2020, we have seen alarming reports of high customer closures–on prices during the [COVID-19] pandemic for certain utilities,” said committee chair Frank Pallone Jr., DN.J.; Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill.; and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said in letters to public services.
Overview of the dive:
Inquiry comes amid concerns rising energy prices and how they might affect consumer debt.
The letters note that total utility backlogs increased by 10% from 2020 to 2021, with the average backlog increasing by more than 20% during this period. “These trends, coupled with rising energy prices and the destabilization of volatile global energy markets following the crisis in Ukraine, are of particular concern for low-income families,” the lawmakers said. from the room.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, many states implemented moratoriums on utility cuts. A National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners state shutdown moratoria map The latest update in September indicates that all mandatory COVID-related bans on utility disconnects expired or were due to end early this year.
Utility companies that have received letters from the committee have been listed in a September report by nonprofits Bailout Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity as having the most pandemic shutdowns among “selected” utilities.
Combined, the six companies received $1 billion in benefits from the Aid, relief and economic security against the coronavirus Act, and they cut power to more than 930,500 homes between July 2020 and June 2021, representing 94% of power utility cuts, according to the report.
“In the spring of 2020, the utility industry argued before this committee, as well as other committees and agencies, that a federal mandatory shutdown[-]a moratorium was not needed because a patchwork of state and local moratoriums had already begun to take shape,” the Democratic lawmakers said in the letters.
Among other things, lawmakers asked utilities to outline their plans to meet the needs of their “most vulnerable” customers and provide an assessment of energy assistance needs in their service territories and whether expiration of the expansion of the child tax credit at the end of last year could lead to more blockages.
Senate Democrats in the fall of 2020 took a similar look how utilities dealt with the financial challenges that some of their customers were facing during the pandemic.
Over the past two years, Dominion has helped customers in a number of ways, including working with stakeholders to provide over $200 million in arrears; suspend disconnections for non-payment, first voluntarily, then in accordance with state orders; increase business financing Energy Sharing heating and cooling assistance program; and connecting customers to other energy assistance programs, such as the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program, Dominion spokesman Ryan Frazier said in an email.
Exelon utilities have taken various measures during the COVID-19 pandemic to support their customers, such as connecting more than 650,000 customers to $430 million in energy assistance last year, according to Nicholas Alexopulos, a company spokesperson.
“Our utilities have suspended terminations prior to state terms,” Alexopulos said in an email. “At the height of the pandemic – when a financial safety net was vital for our most vulnerable residential customers – we also increased flexible payment plan options and reconnect service for those whose electricity had already run out. been interrupted.”
Duke prepares to respond to the committee, Keith Richardson, a spokesperson for the company, said. Other utilities involved in the panel’s investigation did not respond to requests for comment.
Editor’s note: We’ve updated the story to include comments from Exelon. Also, a previous version of this story got it wrong in its description of state shutdown bans. Wyoming has not banned utility cuts.