Exelon, the parent company that owns major electricity providers in D.C. and Maryland, earned the dubious honor of the top spot on a list of utility companies with the most shutoffs recorded in 2022, according to a report released Monday. The company disconnected households’ power more than 368,000 times across the country because of unpaid bills between January and October of last year, the analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Energy and Policy Institute and Bailout Watch found.
The report also said that Exelon spent 51 times more on shareholder dividends than it would have cost to keep the lights on in those homes.
“They’re not worried about who’s in that house or why they’re struggling to pay their bills,” co-author Selah Goodson Bell said. “They’re just worried about their bottom line.”
The Washington Informer reached out to Exelon for a comment, but has not received a response from the company.
The study, titled “Powerless in the United States: How Utilities Drive Shutoffs and Energy Injustice,” found that American households had their electricity cut more than a million times last year. That includes over 70,000 times in Maryland — putting it among the top 10 states for total 2022 disconnects. Households in the District were shut off a little over 3,800 times.
Many states, including Virginia, do not require utilities to disclose data about disconnections, so other companies may in actuality be disconnecting more households than Exelon but can simply avoid reporting them.
“Utilities are actively hiding this data,” Goodson Bell said. “But also, a lot of the regulators are just being negligent and not forcing them to provide this information.”
Nationally and locally, utility shutoffs disproportionately impact Black households. In D.C., one in five Black households had a “high energy burden” — defined as spending more than 6% of their income on energy bills — in 2020, according to a study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The study also found that the median energy burden for Black households in D.C. was 70% higher than that of white households.
Other factors besides income compound the racially disparate impacts of utility shutoffs. That’s because of discriminatory redlining — formal and informal practices aimed at shutting homebuyers out of certain neighborhoods due to race or ethnicity — has added to Black households’ energy burdens. Formerly redlined urban neighborhoods are, on average, about 5 degrees hotter in the summer than neighborhoods favored for home loans, a 2020 study in the journal Climate found. And discriminatory housing practices have also left communities of color with housing that, because of structural deficiencies, costs more to heat and cool.
The impact of those disparities will only increase as climate change causes hotter and hotter summer temperatures.
“We had a lot of heat waves, floods and freezes last year, and that puts a lot of pressure on households in a variety of ways, but specifically on their electricity use and energy demand,” Goodson Bell said. “And for low-income households and houses of color especially — not only are they more often on the front lines on these climate crises, but it also usually costs more for them to heat their homes in response to these extreme weather events.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of homes disconnected. The numbers in the report represent total disconnections, rather than total households.