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Large Utilities Have Made $14B in Profits as Millions Fall Behind on Payments

Roughly 1 in 6 households are currently behind on energy bills.

The sun sets behind power lines near homes in Los Angeles, California on September 6, 2022.

As millions of Americans have fallen behind on utility payments amid skyrocketing energy prices and inflation rates, top U.S. utility companies have made billions of dollars in profits, a new analysis shows.

According to a report released Tuesday by Accountable.US, the nine largest U.S.-based utility companies made nearly $14 billion in the first three quarters of 2022, with corporations like NextEra Energy and Duke Energy increasing their profits by millions of dollars over profits from the same period during 2021.

At the same time, these companies spent over $11 billion on stock buybacks and dividends, showering their shareholders with cash as gas and electricity prices have skyrocketed for households by over 14 percent over the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; in August, the agency recorded the highest 12-month increase in electricity prices since 1981.

These price increases have forced many families to fall behind on payments. According to nonprofit National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), about one in six households, or about 20 million homes, are behind on utility bills. These households collectively owe around $16.1 billion, or about $788 per household on average.

And energy utility prices have surged once again as families brace for the winter months ahead, with prices already rising by 18 percent for winter this year, NEADA reports, and with prices predicted to rise as high as 28 percent in coming months.

Experts say that they expect utility shutoffs to rise precipitously in the coming months as a result, leaving thousands, if not millions, in the cold. These issues are only compounded by historically high inflation rates on a global scale, caused in large part by corporate profiteering.

“Well-heeled utility company CEOs are holding consumers’ feet to the fire with exorbitant energy prices,” Accountable.US Director of Economic Security and Corporate Power Liz Zelnick said in a statement. “Not because they have to, judging by their own high profits and generous giveaways to wealthy investors — but because they can with colder weather on the horizon.”

“To prey on families who use a necessary service with unreasonable and unjustified rate hikes is corporate greed at its worst,” Zelnick said.

Zelnick added that, as inflation shows signs of slowing, it is still clearly being driven at least in part by corporate greed, and noted that the Federal Reserve’s quest to continue increasing interest rates and kill millions of jobs will only hurt families and won’t stop rising inflation. Indeed, economists have said that Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s rate hikes have been designed to protect the wealthy while curbing worker power and hurting the working class.

Profiteering practices have paid off handsomely for energy companies. Government watchdogs and energy policy experts say that one of the reasons for high prices has been the artificial deflation of domestic energy supply.

Companies have been exporting oil and gas at particularly high volumes in recent years; the rate of natural gas exports this year has been double pre-pandemic rates. This has allowed fossil fuel corporations to suppress supply at home and increase prices to pad profits, while also allowing utility companies to raise prices for consumers.

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