Commonwealth Edison turned off the juice to more than one in every 25 homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side in the five weeks from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31, according to newly filed statistics.
In the Zip codes for Englewood, South Shore, Roseland/Pullman, Auburn Gresham, Chatham and Woodlawn, 6,104 homes were disconnected for nonpayment in that period, according to filings with the Illinois Commerce Commission. That’s 4.1 percent of ComEd’s 147,986 residential customers in those areas.
In addition, more than 9 percent of the households in those neighborhoods were sent notices in October that their power would be shut off if they didn’t reach out to the utility for payment options.
In ComEd’s northern Illinois service territory as a whole during that time frame, the utility disconnected 40,979 residential customers, or 1.1 percent of the 3.7 million total. In October, 3.6 percent of ComEd’s residential customers got disconnection warnings.
Most of those warnings will go unenforced for the time being. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said yesterday that she negotiated a halt to disconnections by ComEd and Peoples Gas through March.
“No Chicagoan should be punished for struggling during this time, and truly all of us are struggling one way or another, and there are too many that are struggling financially,” Lightfoot said at her press conference. “We do not want utilities to be one of the things that you’re worried about.”
In reaching agreement with the mayor, the utilities weren’t doing anything unusual. Both ComEd and Peoples (as well as suburban gas utilities Nicor Gas and North Shore Gas) routinely suspend disconnections during heating season, which lasts from November through March.
“Service disconnections are our last resort and are designed to encourage customers to enroll in assistance programs,” ComEd spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said in an email. “Residential customer enrollment into deferred payment arrangements has increased 98.6 percent since we began sending disconnection notices.”
Utilities and local officials urge customers struggling to pay utility bills to contact the companies or the Citizens Utility Board to work out a payment arrangement.
“It is important for customers to stay current to avoid higher past-due balances into the spring that will be harder to address,” Breymaier added. “These balances have the potential to affect all ComEd customers, including others who are facing financial hardship, because costs from uncollected bills will get passed on to all customers in the form of higher rates, in accordance with state regulatory law.”
For the many delinquent customers who don’t seek help, ComEd clearly made up for lost time in the five-week window it had for disconnections.
ComEd resumed residential disconnections in the last week of September following expiration of a months-long moratorium on collections requested by the ICC, which regulates utilities, in response to the pandemic. When they resumed disconnections, ComEd and other utilities said it was necessary to cut off customers who weren’t responding to warnings in order to ensure that uncollectible accounts don’t mushroom further.
For households late on their electric bills, the average amount behind was $327 as of the end of August, according to ComEd. That was nearly double the average last year of $165.
There were more disconnections on a percentage basis in Englewood than any other city neighborhood or suburb. In those five weeks from late September to the end of October, ComEd cut off service to 699 households in Zip code 60621, which is mainly Englewood. That was 5.5 percent of the 12,699 residential customers there. Another 11 percent were sent disconnection warnings in October.
In Chatham, Auburn Gresham, Roseland and South Shore 4 percent of households were shut off.
There’s hardship in the suburbs as well, particularly south of the city. ComEd cut off service to 3.3 percent of the households in the 60827 Zip code, mainly encompassing Riverdale. Nearly 3 percent of the households in the 60409 Zip code, which mainly is Calumet City, lost service for lack of payment.
In 60426, mainly Harvey and Phoenix, ComEd disconnected 2.6 percent of residential customers. The cutoff percentage was 2.5 percent in 60411, which includes parts of Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Sauk Village and Lynwood.
Read a full version of the Crain’s Chicago Business story.