Ongoing pandemic, economic collapse, lifting of eviction and utility shutoff moratoriums, ending of federal unemployment assistance, Black Lives Matter - my mind is spinning! There are literally fires to put out everywhere. But, simply putting them out is not going to solve the systematic problems that caused them. We need to dig deep into the unjust policies that got us here.
While nearly everyone is talking about systemic racism, redlining, and income inequity, we realize it’s actually very expensive to be poor, and our utility bills play a part in that as well. Here are some numbers:
Let’s say you move to the Northshore, and Cleco is your electricity provider. You call them up to open an account and they need a deposit. Well, the amount of that deposit can vary from $100 to over $1,000, and I can assure you it’s not the rich paying more. A homeowner pays $100, a renter has to pony up $150 and if you’re one of the many that have struggled financially over the years and placed in the “High Risk” category, they can charge you twice as much as the highest bill for that location.
Considering it’s not uncommon to receive utility bills that are upwards of $500 in the hot summer months for poorly insulated homes, well, you get the idea. And, since no blog goes published over here at the Alliance without an energy efficiency plug, we know it’s low income, multifamily, housing that tends to be the most energy inefficient and houses the most energy burdened populations (call your Commissioner and tell him that Louisiana needs long-term energy efficiency programs with a budget carve-out for low-income programs).
Moving on, you saddled up with your utility provider over the deposit, but somewhere along the line you just can’t make a payment and you incur a late-fee. The LPSC allows jurisdictional utilities to charge 5% of your bill for being overdue. If you’re in an energy efficient home with a $100 bill for August, it’s $5, if you’re one of the many with a $500 bill for August, you're looking at $25. Here’s the crazy thing though, digging through their FERC Form 1, Entergy Louisiana banked over $20.6 million in late fees in 2019 alone, approximately $20 per customer and significantly higher than most utilities outside of Louisiana. That’s $20.6 million dollars from the very many of us that are just struggling to keep the lights on. And many of us, find that we just can’t. A reconnection fee can cost you up to $65, as a Cleco customer, and that’s on top of the total amount due including late fees.
A year goes by, and that homeowner with decent credit, in an energy efficient home that was able to pay bills on time gets their deposit credited to their account and they don’t owe anything that month. They have now spent approximately $1,200 for a year of electric service. Meanwhile, another customer with the same $100 monthly bill that was late on their bills six months a year and had two disconnects will pay an additional $160 in fees and will have their significantly inflated deposit withheld. And that money is coming out of the pockets of those that need it most. That’s millions of dollars to corporate executives and shareholders from those of us that literally cannot afford basic necessities.
This fire can be put out with federal LIHEAP dollars and many may argue that these fees are the cost of business but that’s simply subscribing to the same old structure that led to such income inequality to begin with. I’m sure you’ve read, escaping poverty takes almost 20 years with nearly nothing going wrong, and this is part of it.
As we continue to trudge through this period of national crisis, our Investor Owned Utilities are effectively guaranteed a profit, while very few of us have that opportunity let alone promise. We can’t choose our electric utility, and are on the hook for their fees as arbitrary as they may be. So as we look critically at the systems that serve and/or exploit us it’s important to remember that something so basic as residential electricity security in the 21st Century, in the richest Country in the world, is unattainable for many.
The data in this blog was gathered by one of our rockstar interns, Peter Raymond-Graffeo. Thank you for all of your hard work and effort!
~~Stay tuned for the full report!~~