In Illinois, in 2021, utilities agreed to ban blackouts until March 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many other states also limited shutdowns that year.
According to a report released Monday by three groups critical of the fossil fuel industry, Chicago-based electricity and gas suppliers are among the national leaders in shutting off customers for non-payment, a sign of “utility corruption” in Illinois.
The ComEd and Nicor Gas report states that ComEd canceled the service of 225,827 accounts until October last year, which is 27% more than in the same 10 months in the previous year.
During the same period, Nicor Gas, which serves most Chicago suburbs, stopped serving 24,022 customers, which is almost 38% more than in 2021.
The report says that the increase in outages in 2022 helped make Illinois the leader in the number of utility outages among the 30 states and Washington, DC that disclose this information. Its authors are employees of the Institute of Energy and Politics, the Center for Biological Diversity and BailoutWatch.
The report says that utility companies across the country are increasing outages by spending more on executive salaries and dividends to shareholders. It says utilities that were most active in outages from 2020 to October 2022 could have avoided them all by redirecting just 1% of their dividend spending.
“The practice of utility outages keeps millions of Americans in poverty and narrows their escape routes,” the report says. “By giving utilities the right to punish poverty, we give them the right to perpetuate it.”
Tom Dominguez, a spokesman for ComEd, said the utility would gain nothing from the outages and has stepped up support for programs to help people pay bills. He said ComEd outages in 2022 are now about the same as in 2019, before the pandemic.
Dominguez also issued a statement questioning the authority of the Institute of Energy and Politics. The organization does not disclose its sources of funding, saying only that it is supported by funds supporting environmental goals.
Nicor spokeswoman Jennifer Goltz said her own data shows that the number of outages is increasing more slowly than in the report. She said Nicor, part of utility giant Southern Co., has increased grants for people who need help paying.