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New dashboard highlights utility disconnections, policies across country

For Immediate Release Jun 9, 2023

BLOOMINGTON — Nearly 3 million customers in the United States had their electricity or natural gas shut off last year for not paying a bill. In fact, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, one in four American households experience some form of energy insecurity each year.

The new utility disconnection dashboard is a project of the Energy Justice Lab at IU Bloomington. The above shows utility disconnections ... The new utility disconnection dashboard is a project of the Energy Justice Lab at IU Bloomington. The above shows utility disconnections across the U.S. for 2022; gray indicates “no data with given filters.”

Indiana University researchers Sanya Carley and David Konisky have spent several years creating a new dashboard that compiles utility disconnections and related consumer protections and policies nationwide in an effort to raise awareness about energy insecurity and encourage policy change to protect some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

“For low-income families across the country, affording basic energy services is a constant struggle,” said Carley, professor at the IU Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “When people fall behind on their bills, they can be shut off from their energy service. Losing access to electricity or heat is not just an inconvenience. Prolonged shut-offs can put already vulnerable families in dire circumstances that can adversely affect their health and well-being.”

The dashboard is a project of the Energy Justice Lab at IU Bloomington, which Carley co-directs with Konisky, the Lynton K. Caldwell professor at the O’Neill School. Through the dashboard, accessible to everyone, users can track disconnections over time, and see patterns across the country and for different utility providers.

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The dashboard will give consumers a better idea of what their state offers as far as protection, Konisky said, and it will give policymakers the ability to see how other states are designing disconnection policies. Additionally, researchers will be able to extract and analyze the data, so they can study the implications of disconnections on health, education and financial stability, among other outcomes.

“This dashboard provides a first-of-its-kind resource that will help users better understand the magnitude of the challenge of utility disconnections, as well as the limited protections that exist for households,” Konisky said.

Previous research by Carley and Konisky during the COVID-19 pandemic found that more than half of all low-income households engaged in coping strategies to reduce their energy bills, including accruing debt, forgoing expenses on food, and using space heaters and ovens for heat. Additionally, they found that households of color are disproportionately affected compared to their white counterparts.

“We also know that there are disparities in which households are disconnected by their utilities,” Konisky added. “Our research over the past several years clearly shows that people of color, those experiencing poverty, families with young children and households with medically vulnerable individuals are all more likely to face disconnections. We hope policymakers, researchers and practitioners will be able to use this tool to identify where there are particularly vulnerable populations and seek targeted solutions for them.”

The new dashboard was guided by an external advisory board, and benefited from the work of numerous graduate students and others affiliated with the Energy Justice Lab.

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