Letters to the EditorNews

Don’t Let Utilities Cut Off Power During the Pandemic

Cutting off a household’s electricity in the middle of a Georgia summer is inhumane at any time, but it is particularly dangerous during a pandemic. 

On June 2, the Public Service Commission voted to end moratoriums on utility shutoffs, which had been in place since April to protect consumers during COVID-19. Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light will begin cutting off people’s power for overdue bills as early as July 15. This decision comes as COVID-19 case rates are rising across the state, unemployment in Athens is at 10.6%, and public pools, camps and facilities remain closed or limited. The conditions under which the PSC adopted the moratorium persist. The policy protecting consumers should, too.

We are entering the hottest part of this summer with COVID-19 still spreading in the community, and options for staying cool in public spaces are limited. Families are relying more heavily on home air conditioning. Pools, splash pads, playgrounds, community centers and many summer camps are closed. When opened, there are likely to be more restrictions than usual on capacity, making these options less accessible.  According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to extreme heat and the inability to cool off is linked to poor health outcomes, including respiratory illnesses, which could make even healthy people more susceptible to COVID-19 infections. Cutting people’s power off during this time is dangerous both to individual households and to the community as we work to slow the infection rate.

As a leader in the Athens 100% Clean and Renewable Energy initiative, I care deeply about meeting my community’s energy needs in a just and equitable manner. As a former teacher, I have seen the trauma that power shut-offs cause for families in “normal” times. When people can’t pay their power bills, families are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between groceries and keeping the lights on or temporarily moving in with other family members, leading to more crowded housing. The PSC vote to end the moratorium forces people to make dangerous decisions as we work to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

With this vote, the elected officials in the PSC have demonstrated that their loyalties lie with utility companies and their shareholders—not the people. It is time for a more equitable energy system for the people of Athens. This is why 100% Athens is seeking robust community engagement as the Athens-Clarke County government commences planning for the 100% clean and renewable energy transition. Through community investment in on-site renewables and energy efficiency, community members can look forward to a future of lower costs and more local autonomy over energy policies.