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Utility Shutoffs Are Keeping Struggling Californians in the Dark

Energy is a basic need in a modern economy — some would even argue that uninterrupted energy service and electric power is a fundamental human right. Yet we are witnessing a growing energy crisis that has significant economic and health implications for struggling Californians — utility shutoffs.

In California, nearly 894,000 households live with income at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level ($10,210 for a family of three) and spend about 25 percent of their income just on utilities. That is five times the 5 percent spent by higher-income households (185–200 percent of the poverty level) for electricity, heating, and cooling. Blacks, Latinos, and renters in multifamily buildings tend to face the highest energy burdens. Make no mistake, this is an economic and racial justice issue.

Home energy is an expense that fluctuates widely and can create a nearly insurmountable financial burden for those who are already juggling household expenses. As a result, last year, utility service was cut off in 868,000 California households — representing 2.5 million people, mostly children, and marking a staggering 60% increase from the 547,000 households that experienced utility shutoffs in 2010.

Changing climate conditions paired with energy rate hikes are wreaking further havoc on families with limited and fixed incomes. Heat waves are more intense in California and last longer. Last year was the hottest year to date on record, and January 2017 was the third hottest January ever recorded.

At the same time, electricity rates were raised three times in the past year, making energy rates for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) customers an average of 21 percent higher than they were a year ago. And depending on PG&E’s potential culpability in the North Bay fires, consumers could face additional rate hikes to cover the costs of the damage. These kinds of rapidly successive price jumps are too much to handle for many families, and they further limit the impact of assistance programs that are already insufficient.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.

Photo: Michelle Hurwitz CC BY 2.0