Electricity and gas are not luxury commodities, they are basic necessities. Residents need power to regulate household temperatures, preserve food, see at night, and communicate with the outside world. When a home doesn't have power, it can't function properly. Between time spent trying to restore power instead of working and the deposits and reconnection fees required for restoration, the additional costs to residents that come with power shut-offs make bad financial situations worse.
Losing power negatively affects health outcomes, too. Shut-offs increase risk of hunger, stress, respiratory illness, and heat stroke. Households that get shut off are likely to resort to using candles for light, fires for heat, and neighbors’ extension cords, all of which increase the risk of a house fire. For people who use medical devices like dialysis machines or assisted breathing machines, losing power is a life-or-death issue. Despite PG&E's Medical Baseline program, customers are four times more likely to never have their services restored.
An End to Unjust Shut-offs
By taking public ownership over PG&E, we can stop its payment collections strategy of shutting off power for people who can’t afford their rising energy bills. Twenty-five percent of California families are affected by power shut offs for non-payment, with Latinx, Native, and poor communities disproportionately impacted.
PG&E’s shut-offs affect an increasing number of Californians. In 2016, PG&E shut off power for 312,007 households, up from 170,000 in 2010. During this same period, unemployment fell from 13% to 6.5%, and the California median income rose by more than $4,000. With more Californians employed, and with a higher median income, more people should be able to pay their energy bills on time.
Rates Continue to Climb
So why did PG&E shut off power for more households? During these six years, PG&E raised their rates at a much faster pace than post-recession restabilization, with the average monthly bill increasing by 50%, from $77 to $117 a month. As standard customer shutoff rates increased by 120%, shut-off rates for low-income customers enrolled in the means-tested CARE discount increased by 15%, and shutoffs for families enrolled in the means-tested FERA discount program increased by 91%.
Shut-offs are not necessary to collect unpaid power bills. There is no correlation between power companies’ shut-off rates and their delinquency rates. Other legal mechanisms like debt collection exist to collect debts, are widely used in other industries, and don't involve potentially destabilizing a household by denying it a vital resource.
Shifting to a publicly owned, democratically controlled energy utilities program will end shut-offs for good, and put people—and the planet—over profit. Through fair, transparent pricing, and redistributive programs like minimum payment options, our proposal will stop the practice of holding heat, water, and electricity ransom.
Source: TURN’s 2018 report on shut-offs