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There’s a Pandemic Power Crisis. But How Big Is It?

Millions of U.S. households faced utility shutoffs for unpaid bills during the coronavirus crisis, a new report estimates. But data on the scale of the problem is hard to find. 

A power plant in Palo Pinto, Texas, where widespread blackouts connected to winter weather have focused new attention on the dangers of utility shutoffs. 

A power plant in Palo Pinto, Texas, where widespread blackouts connected to winter weather have focused new attention on the dangers of utility shutoffs. 

Photographer: Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg

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U.S. utility companies have shut off natural gas and electricity service to more than three-quarters of a million households across just 10 states during the pandemic, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Biological Diversity. 

That number may be big, but it’s also incomplete: It didn’t account for commercial customers who are also having trouble paying their bills, or the 14% of U.S. residents using public power, instead focusing on households served by private utility companies. And it omits the 30 states with utility commissions that don’t require companies to disclose how many households they disconnect, or that failed to provide easily searchable data. Just three utilities companies that operate in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida reported shutoffs to the equivalent of 2.6% of their customers.  The report estimates that, if the same ratio was applied to all U.S. households, the toll could reach 3.14 million.