A typical electricity bill leaves the customer with the sense that she knows exactly what she’s paying for. It might show how many kilowatts of power her household has used, the costs of generating that electricity and delivering it, and the amount that goes to taxes. But these bills can hide as much as they reveal: They don’t indicate how much of the customer’s money is being used to build new power plants, for example, or to pay the CEO’s salary. They also don’t show how much of the bill goes toward political activity — things like lobbying expenses, or litigation against pollution controls.
Most U.S. utility bills also fail to specify that they’re collecting dues payments for trade associations. These organizations try to shape laws in electric and gas companies’ favor, in addition to more quotidian functions like coordinating regulatory compliance. On any given billing statement, these charges may only add up to pennies. By collecting them from tens of millions of households, however, trade associations have built up enormous budgets that translate to powerful political operations.
The Edison Electric Institute, an association that counts all of th... Read more