Alarming new data shows that millions of American households have overdue utility bills, sparking concern that large-scale power shutoffs could be coming for residential customers.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, over 20 million households are behind on their utility payments.
NEADA executive director Mark Wolfe called the number of families at risk “historic,” according to Fox Business.
He said the total amount owed on utility bills at the end of 2019 came out to about $8.1 billion nationwide. Midway through 2022, that figure sits at a devastating $16 billion, having nearly doubled in less than three years.
Fox reported that the average delinquent bill jumped from $403 to $792 in that time.
One of the primary catalysts in the brewing cauldron of utility debt is the soaring cost of energy.
The average cost of electricity in the U.S. was up 15.2 percent year-over-year in July, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bloomberg reported that that was the sharpest 12-month increase in over 15 years.
The cost of natural gas, meanwhile, climbed 30.5 percent.
Natural gas is the preferred home heating fuel, accounting for 55 percent of U.S. homes built in 2020, according to Elements.
Industry leaders say the high prices are not going to come down any time soon.
“The consumer is going to pay more for their heating bills this winter,” Lipow Oil Associates president Andrew Lipow wrote this week, according to Fox.
“Whether they use natural gas or home heating oil, most will have sticker shock,” he said.
Jean Su, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that tracks utility disconnects across the country, told Bloomberg she expects “a tsunami of shutoffs.”
“The bills just aren’t affordable,” Wolfe said. “People on the bottom, they can’t pay this.”
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