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Service Shutoffs May Resume in Arizona, but Details Remain Unsettled

Arizona utilities may resume cutting power to customers with unpaid bills as an emergency moratorium on shutoffs during the summer heat expired in mid-October.

During a state Corporation Commission meeting on October 10 to discuss the issue, representatives from several Arizona power companies said that they wanted to start disconnections as early as October 16. Other utilities, like Arizona Public Service, said they would set up payment plans, so that customer could start paying off balances incurred over the summer months.

Earlier this year, Energy Central reported that regulators put in place the emergency ban on June 20, following news reports of a 72-year-old woman who died of heat-related causes after APS cut her electricity in September 2018 for non-payment. 

Changes to shutoff rules as proposed by Corporation Commission staff would bar utilities from cutting electricity to customers during extreme heat or cold, which it defines as above 105 degrees Fahrenheit or below 32.

If unpaid bills accrue during that moratorium, utilities may not charge late fees or interest on them. However, customers would be required within 15 days "either to pay the delinquent bill in full or to enter into a payment plan to repay the delinquent bill through installments over a period of four months."

APS reportedly said at the October meeting that it sent messages by mail, doorhanger and phone, and that anyone with a delinquency of $75 or more would be enrolled in a four-month payment plan. If a customer failed to pay the delinquent balance by the end of the grace period, the utility would move through the disconnect process and deliver disconnect notices.

Several consumer advocates worried that the four months proposed by Corporation Commission staff would not give customers enough time to pay off balances. They also worried that APS's messaging might not be enough to inform customers of their option

Overdue Bills

As of October 7, delinquent balances for 88,074 APS customers totaled $30.6 million, according to an APS filing with the Corporation Commission. That number was lower than the summer high of $31.4 million in delinquent balances for 99,308 customers on September 23, suggesting that some customers were paying off their balances before the moratorium ended.

Tucson Electric Power customers slated for disconnection more than doubled during the first three weeks of September, to 7,418 from 3,108 total in July and August, the utility said in a report to regulators. The average past due amount in August was $484, TEP said, up around 15% from August 2018.

TEP customers subject to disconnection will receive automatic phone notifications and letters with their regular bills, detailing their past-due balances and the amount of monthly installments they must pay to catch up.

TEP also said it will work out longer payment plans with customers who can’t pay their past-due bills in four months. The utility said it also refers customers to local agencies that distribute utility-assistance funding to low-income households.

Trico Electric Cooperative, which serves about 46,000 home customers in rural areas surrounding Tucson, said that it had 335 disconnect-eligible accounts with an average bill of $440. The co-op said the number of those delinquent accounts dropped in early October, as many customers contacted its offices to make payment arrangements.

David Wagman's picture

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 18, 2019 1:18 pm GMT

They also worried that APS's messaging might not be enough to inform customers of their option

This is the big concern I have reading this. Surely the utilities are a business and need to be paid, but this isn't about cutting off a luxury, it's a daily necessity. How much one-on-one connections are being made to really hear out and work out a plan for customers who are in this kind of trouble? 

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