Companies pocketed $14 billion in the first nine months of 2022 while roughly 20 million households are behind on payments amid warnings of widespread shutoffs, a watchdog group finds.
With colder winter weather looming, an analysis released this week shows that the nine largest energy utility companies in the U.S. raked in nearly $14 billion in combined profits during the first three quarters of this year — and dished out roughly $11 billion to their wealthy shareholders — as tens of millions of U.S. households struggled to pay their utility bills due to soaring costs.
The watchdog group Accountable.US found that NextEra Energy, Duke Energy, Southern Company, Dominion Energy, Constellation Energy, Eversource Energy, Entergy Corporation, DTE Energy and CMS Energy Corporation brought in $13.8 billion in the first nine months of this fiscal year.
The firms, the nine largest in the U.S. by market capitalization, returned over $11.2 billion to shareholders during that period in the form of dividends and stock buybacks.
The utility giants’ massive profits have come at a cost to U.S. households, roughly 20 million of which are behind on their utility payments as providers continue to raise rates across the U.S., pushing home energy costs to unaffordable levels and prompting warnings of a “tsunami of shutoffs.”
The Center for Biological Diversity recently estimated that utilities have shut off households’ power 440,000 times across 15 states that have made their rates publicly available, a large increase from last year.
“Well-heeled utility company CEOs are holding consumers’ feet to the fire with exorbitant energy prices,” Liz Zelnick, director of Accountable.US’ Economic Security and Corporate Power program, 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 added.
The Accountable.US analysis shows that the same large utility companies raking in huge profits and paying their executives massive pay packages are driving price increases nationwide.
Southern Company’s Georgia subsidiary, for instance, “had a near-12% rate hike approved in June 2022—and in August 2022, its Tennessee subsidiary was granted a rate hike that would result in typical monthly home heating bills rising by about 25%,” the analysis notes.
NBC News reported in October that “nationwide, investor-owned utilities have requested rate increases amounting to nearly $12 billion from the beginning of the year through the end of August.”
Zelnick argued that utility giants’ price hikes are part of a broader trend of corporate price-gouging, a practice that companies frequently excuse by pointing to higher overall inflation throughout the economy.
“Like so many other industries during the pandemic, utility companies have chased higher and higher profits and enriched investors rather than keep prices stable for working families,” said Zelnick. “While the economy is seeing signs of slowing inflation, it is clear corporate greed continues to be a primary driver of high costs on everything from groceries to heating bills — a problem that won’t be solved by the Fed’s one-track-minded policy of excessive interest rate hikes that threaten millions of jobs.”
Utility firms’ greedy behavior throughout the coronavirus pandemic has drawn the attention of progressive lawmakers such as Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who in September introduced a resolution that would recognize access to utilities such as electricity and heating as a basic human right.
NEW REPORT: 1 in 6 U.S. homes are behind on utility bills. Yet, the Top 9 U.S. utility companies hiked rates in 2022 while reaping nearly $14 billion in profit.
Nearly 20 million households are struggling against rising energy bills. https://t.co/JcjZMbvmOJ pic.twitter.com/RT4Hk6JVNS
— Accountable.US (@accountable_us) December 13, 2022
The Resolution Recognizing the Human Rights to Utilities has not yet received a vote.
“Utilities are the foundation we build our lives upon,” Tlaib said in a statement upon introduction of the measure. “In the richest country the world has ever known, it is an outrage that millions of Americans struggle with utility insecurity, substandard and dangerous services, and inhumane shutoffs.”
“It’s time to change the conversation around what we all deserve, take the profit motive out of providing the basics of a good life, and give every American the opportunity to thrive,” Tlaib added.
Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
This article is from Common Dreams.
Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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So typical American…Profiting from peoples’ misery and government(s) just looking the other way. In cahoots???
What did Rep. Bush, Tlaib, and Bowman think was going to happen? It is as if all of them are now greatly surprised to learn that prices inevitably rise when the availability of supply falls. Welcome to Econ 101 kids.
The Biden Administration has spent its entire time shutting down energy pipelines, roadblocking any new drilling or mining, promising to end the entire coal industry as we know it, but then has the temerity to demonize those who make their living doing all of the above. Throw in bi partisan Washington DC’s mindless dabbling in Eastern European wars and you having the making of a genuine global energy crisis.
The economic ignorance and political naïveté displayed by some of these elected representatives and appointed administration officials is sometimes just too hard to believe. Truly amazing stuff, but hang on tight. It is going to get worse.
[See also: Defund the police movement vis a vis rising crime rates or Democratic Party supported open borders policies vis a vis 100K/year drug overdose deaths & falling standards of living.]
What can you expect? That is the job of these enterprises-to make money for the shareholders. Any decent society would keep power, water and other essential needs of the population in public hands -socialism!!!how wicked.
This price gouging seems to be happening in some other western countries – at least in UK and Australia. Massive price hikes giving them massive profits.
‘Disaster’ capitalism and exploitation at its worst – deliberately making people suffer! Twice – not being able to keep themselves warm, and having to pay exorbitant energy bills.