Tracking State Legislation to Get Politics Out of Utility Bills

Last Updated: Apr. 15, 2024

Eleven states* have filed legislative proposals this session to prohibit investor-owned utilities from using customer funds to support political activities. Three states enacted the provisions last year. This accountability effort comes after a season of high utility bills and customer debt, and utility scandals that have erupted across the country in recent years. 

Nearly 20 million American households were behind on their utility bills last spring, owing a total of $19.5 billion. Frequent price spikes in volatile methane gas and electricity makes it harder for customers to stay current on their utility bill and pay off mounting debt. Colorado, like many states, experienced this volatility first hand last winter, when the price of gas rose by 40%, compared to the previous year. The typical Xcel customer paid 75% more on their gas bills compared to the previous year. Abnormally high utility bills and public pressure compelled Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg and House Speaker Julie McCluskie to investigate the issue by establishing a first-of-its-kind Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates.

Evidence heard in the Committee led to legislative action: Senate Bill 291, a utility reform bill that added new customer protections aimed at some of the root causes of the volatile, high utility bills. SB 291 prohibited utilities from charging customers for their lobbying and other political influence activities, charitable contributions, trade association dues, and advertising expenses, as well as other costs like gas pipeline extensions. Utility trade associations, like the Edison Electric Institute, typically advocate for policies that lead to higher utility profits, often at ratepayers’ expense. Eliminating these costs from customers’ bills means utilities can't charge customers for their political machines, which often work to block policies that would lower bills.

Following Colorado, Connecticut and Maine passed bills with bipartisan support that prohibited utilities from recovering the cost of trade association dues, education, charity, lobbying and grassroots lobbying from customers. Legislators in other states followed suit in the end of 2023 and early 2024 with their own efforts to pass protections that eliminate unnecessary political and other unnecessary costs from customers’ bills. 

View EPI’s utility accountability report from early 2023 and additional research for more information.

* States: AZ, CA, IL, MD, MN, NY, OH, PA, RI, UT, and VA

Posted by Shelby Green