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Virginia legislators must take utility shutoff protections seriously this winter

Virginia legislators will try again during the 2023 General Assembly to help ensure that water and power utilities are available to –— and more affordable for –— cash-strapped households in Virginia.

screenshot shows the cover slide from the recording of the Water and Power For All Town Hall

The Nov. 16 town hall was hosted by Appalachian Voices, Clean Virginia, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, and Virginia Organizing. Legislators and their staff discussed the disconnection protections they’re working on, and attendees asked questions about the policies and learned how to support them during the 2023 legislative session. View the recording.

Currently, Virginia is one of only seven states that doesn’t protect residents from getting their power or water shut off over unpaid bills during extreme weather. Yet in 2022, tens of thousands of Virginia households risked losing these essential services at some point, a vulnerability revealed by the more than 50,000 calls for utility assistance to the state’s social service hotline.

At the recent Water and Power for All Town Hall, Del. Irene Shin (D-86) and Stephanie Sidwell, chief of staff for Del. Jackie Glass (D-89), discussed their plans for legislation during the upcoming legislative session.

Shin will reintroduce a bill to ban utilities from shutting off electricity, gas and water services to low-income customers during extreme weather conditions or during a public health crisis. Glass plans to sponsor legislation that would cap late fees and interest charges on late utility bills for customers of publicly-owned utilities. Through their combined efforts, Shin and Glass hope to establish utility shutoff policies that meet widely accepted best practices.

Calling policies that ensure access to essential utilities in critical periods “common sense,” Shin recognized that the issues “will need to be addressed legislatively.” Her office has been working with utility regulators since the early summer to develop a bill that would, she said, “reduce immediate harm being caused to these families whose utilities are being disconnected.”

States with hot- or cold-weather shutoff policies

map marks different states according to whether they have shutoff protections in hot and cold weather, cold weather only, or none at all

Virginia is one of only seven states that offers residents no protections from utility shutoffs during high or low temperatures. Map, J. Davidson, Appalachian Voices. Data, Energy Justice Lab, Indiana University.

The town hall was organized by Appalachian Voices and other members of the Energy Burden Coalition, a group that includes social and environmental justice organizations throughout Virginia and which advocates for affordable clean electricity. Since March 2020, when Covid-19 forced people to stay home from work and other social activities, these advocates have been concerned about the incidence of water and power shutoffs of low-income households that cannot afford their utility bills.

Now that the emergency order banning utility shutoffs during the height of the pandemic has expired, the Energy Burden Coalition worries about how access to these essential services would be handled in the event of another public health crisis. Unlike 43 other states, the Virginia legislature has not enacted policies that would protect households from shutoff in extreme weather conditions.

Instead, legislators and utility regulators have left decisions about when to shut water or power off over unpaid bills up to the utility companies themselves, even during very hot or cold weather. This leniency towards the companies means that people served by one company may be protected, while Virginians served by another company aren’t, posing an arbitrary geographic injustice to low-income Virginians, who don’t have the same security in access to water and power during crisis.

Meanwhile, current high energy prices, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and coupled with economic inflation and supply chain challenges, are making the prospect of unaffordable utility bills a reality for many Virginia residents. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that electricity prices will rise by 10% and methane gas prices by 28% this winter. These factors will increase a low-income households’ vulnerability to shutoff during the current heating period, as the cooler weather leads to increases in energy consumption and higher, more unaffordable bills.

Gaps in shutoff policies of water and energy utilities in Virginia

chart detailing utility protections in Virginia, described in cutline

Virginia offers limited protection from shutoffs for some medically vulnerable customers, depending on where they live and which utility provides their power. The state offers no weather- or public health-based protections. Graphic by Jimmy Davidson.

In recent years, several customer deaths resulting from shutoffs of gas or electricity for nonpayment have prompted legislators and regulators in Arizona, Illinois and Texas to prioritize human health and well-being by establishing weather-related disconnection policies.

During the 2022 General Assembly session, Virginia Dels. Shin and Kaye Kory (D-38) followed this lead by introducing two bills that would have established more compassionate standards, including by expanding the existing, but limited, shutoff protection for customers with medical vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, each bill stalled in committee, leaving significant policy gaps in the wake of their attempts.

Alarmingly, even people with serious medical conditions — who may require power and water for the operation of medical equipment or refrigerated medicines — are inadequately protected from life-threatening shutoffs. Investor-owned electric utilities (Dominion Energy, Appalachian Power and Old Dominion Power), 12 electric cooperatives and all public water utilities in Virginia are required to provide a delay from disconnection to customers with a physician-certified medical vulnerability. But Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, the 16 publicly-owned utilities, unregulated water utilities and gas utilities are not held to this mandate in spite of its life-or-death implications. And yet, the use of in-home medical equipment may cause energy bills to double from use of that equipment, making the issue of keeping financially burdened customers connected to a critical power supply even more challenging.

Our new report, “Pressing pause on utility shutoffs,” explores these policy gaps in more detail, but our recommendations to the Virginia legislature can be summed up below. We are calling upon the legislature to enact enforceable shutoff policies that:

  • Prohibit disconnections for nonpayment during any public health crisis and during weather extremes, including high and low temperatures;
  • Require all utilities to provide an exemption from shutoff for medically vulnerable customers, including infants and seniors; and
  • Require regular reporting on disconnections made or avoided to state utility regulators.

As the Water and Power for All Town Hall wound to a close, Stephanie Sidwell leaned on her many years of experience working in the legislative branch to encourage attendees to reach out to their elected representatives about stopping shutoffs — and to do so often. Volume and consistency, she said, are the keys to getting your legislators to pay attention to the issues you care about. In other words, legislators respond to the issues they hear about more frequently and more consistently from their constituents.

During the 2023 General Assembly, we need you to ask your delegates and senators to establish universal disconnection policies across utility types and utility service areas, policies that would put lives — rather than utility profits — first.

A transplant to Southwestern Virginia from the Midwest, Emily engages with communities and works to build a more equitable and sustainable energy system as our Virginia Energy Democracy Field Coordinator.


  1. Ursula Stegall says:

    I am a senior citizen (62)and I am in Diastolic Heart Failure and I have Pulmonary Hypertension and COPD! This morning my power was CUT OFF ! I had a payment arrangement with Dominion Power ! My January payment was due Jan.17 but couldn’t pay till Jan.19 ! I called Dominion Power and they said I would have to pay my back due (which is around $1000.) before my power can be restored! Meanwhile here I am after midnight, in the dark ! It’s around 40 degrees in my house ! I’m worried my pipes are going to burst! My food (that I buy with my SNAP Benefits)( in the freezer is thawing and I really don’t feel well ! I AM SO FRUSTRATED! How can they be SO UNCARING ! Before they HANG UP ON YOU ….. THEY TELL YOU TO HAVE A GOOD REST OF THE DAY ! As I lay here typing this out I hope my TEARS Don’t freeze on my face ! Just wanted someone to know what is going on in my house tonight! PLEASE HELP!!!! Thank You for letting me share this with you!
    Ursula Stegall

  2. Laura says:

    I have a handicapped family member whom can not pay $3000 by March 10,2023 to keep her electricity on. There needs to be more help, by the Government/ President, to stop Dominion electric from turning electric off during anytime of the year.

  3. Al says:

    Yes please help us prevent disconnections during this crisis and is there anything I can do to prevent disconnections

  4. Jennifer Maupin says:

    My sister is disabled and receives SSI.My daughter and I have Medicaid. Our electricity is due to be cut off Thursday. I didn’t know it could’ve been forgiven during COVID, but not now. I’d appreciate any advice!!!

  5. Emily Piontek says:

    Hello all, I’m so sorry to hear what you and your families are going through. You all are exactly right: utilities must provide compassionate policies that don’t put people in such extreme situations! Access to energy is essential for people’s health and well-being. Please reach out to me directly at and I will do my best to connect you or your family members with options!

  6. Kacey says:

    There needs to be more laws for mothers who just had a baby and have been out of work without FAMIS or any kind of maternity leave pay. VA wouldn’t allow me to file unemployment insurance. I had preeclampsia which followed me postpartum, still having health issues 6 weeks later and am on the verge of a disconnect. I got help through a program last month and AEP is still about to send my account to collections, ive got a 6 week old and a 5 year old.

  7. Ashley says:

    I’ve been without power going on 5 months I’m about to lose everything because aep wants 3500 to restore power from a low income based family 942 is all I get a month I died 2 times last year my kids almost lost there mother I’m aep got behind do to my family traveling to see me I need help before I lose my home and my kids ive reached out to everyone please help

  8. Sharon Williams says:

    I have made a complete payment of $1162.75 towards my VA dominion power bill 10/31/23 And then I made an arrangement to get a reconnection of power at my address. Customer service for Virginia dominion power told me that I would have power first thing in the morning of November 1, 2023. I had to call customer service again 11/01/23 because they have failed to send the technicians out to cut the power back on. I asked for the manager this time and explain what the situation was, so we did go through the process again of getting the reconnection. He told me to call back at 2 PM to check the status on my dominion power account. I did sell and steal Virginia dominion power has failed to send a technicians out to reconnect my power. They told me that there was no issues and nothing hindering the process. And then they told me that they would be out to please give them up until 8 PM November 1, 2023. Right now is 11:49 PM as I am expressing on here that we still have no power. I even turn the breakers off as they ask meter and still there is no power after paying $1162.75 on October 31, 2023. I am so disappointed in Virginia dominion power. I thought that they were better than this. My apartment is real cold and I can’t barely take my shower because it’s too cold. I am living right now and I’m double situation even though I gave Dominion power my money Which completely pays all of my Balance from my account and still no service. Yes I’m very disappointed. Tomorrow I will call to give them one more chance to get right to correct This issue. After that I will have to take action. So I hope it all works out tomorrow November 2, 2023.

  9. Kim says:

    It’s snowing and my cut off is tomorrow. It’s ok it’s almost the last thing I have to lose. Don’t have anywhere to go and I am basically a shut in…so I was doing at home work and have a line on a new job because I cannot work in public due to anxiety. So I owe close to a 1000.00 I just don’t know what im gonna due, except just let the electric company know that when my frozen body is removed they helped me get out of my house without a anxiety attack.

  10. Sarah says:

    Im not sure what else I can do at this point. I have been out of work for a year and Im currently going through the process for disability assistance. Because of everything that’s going on I am behind on bills because I had to choose between paying rent to house myself and my child and paying utilities. My gas bill has gotten over $2500, $76 of which I was able to pay today to set up a payment plan to be able to keep the utilities going. I spent a hour on the phone with DPU only for them to say “If you would have set up a arrangement yesterday 01/24/24 then your gas would still be on but since its OFF we would need full payment because it’s OFF, it was cut OFF yesterday”, the customer service agent made sure to emphasize the word “off” several times during our interaction which honestly came off as condescending. I spent the rest of the day calling different agencies asking for help only for them to say they can’t do anything because of 1 of 2 things, Its either they have run out of funds to help or they don’t work with accounts that have payment arrangements on them. It is now 11:20 pm and I am here trying to find ways to get assistance as my child sleeps next to me. Its extremely stressful to not be able to get help when Im doing everything I can to ask/apply for it. Im not sure what else to do but if there’s any suggestions I would gladly take them.

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