Commentary: Careful attention must be paid to next step utility disconnects
When Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt provides remarks at the Arizona Corporation Commission about how our state’s largest utility handles customer disconnections, there is likely to be both new information and, at times, heated discourse.
You can bet Commission regulars and concerned consumers in the Verde Valley area and across Arizona will be paying close attention.
Like many ratepayers, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund is interested in learning more about how APS has handled disconnections in the past. However, to us, it is just as important to hear any changes APS is enacting and what policies the Commission is considering.
Ultimately, it is the Commission that is responsible for recognizing the various reasons utility accounts are disconnected and adopting solutions to better ensure no one dies or suffers as a result of having their electricity shut-off.
As a result of ongoing Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO)-facilitated discussions between APS, TEP, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, Wildfire and other advocates, the Commission is being provided with data and other factors that can assist with policy development and implementation.
Commissioners should also continue to scrutinize utility rates and bills and should require an expansion and diversification of tools -- such as improved customer communications and energy efficiency programs -- to help ratepayers better manage their bills and avoid disconnection.
To continue moving forward, we encourage Commissioners to follow-up on questions they already posed and further press Don Brandt and other APS executives for additional commitments and details including the following:
• What information will APS routinely provide to ensure Commissioners and interested others have the materials and data necessary to assist in assessing and preventing harmful impacts to ratepayers?
• How have notable data points, such as the number of ratepayers due for disconnection and the amount of money those ratepayers owe, shifted on a monthly basis each year over the last several years?
• What, if any, unintended consequences have occurred as a result of the Commission’s disconnection moratorium?
As APS and the Commission determine their respective next steps, it is critical that ratepayers that have been racking up an account balance over the summer understand what is next and are not lost in the shuffle.
When the utility disconnection moratorium ends on October 15, APS customers in the Verde Valley area and across our state will be responsible to now pay what they owe.
While the Commission requires APS to provide a four-month payment plan arrangement to get caught up, we anticipate some consumers will be faced with bills near impossible for them to repay during that time frame.
Not paying is apt to result in both detrimental credit impacts and no electricity. And it is likely that the rest of the customer base will absorb any bad debt.
For ratepayers struggling to pay their utility bill, we encourage you to seek financial assistance now – do not wait until the last minute.
For help, contact either APS at (800)253-9409 or Wildfire, a non-profit organization, at (602)604-0640 or wildfireaz.org/find-help/energy-assistance/.
Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. The Arizona PIRG Education Fund conducts research and education on issues in the public interest.