Utilities have only a few options available to them when it comes to customers who don’t pay their bills. In Arizona, the option of cutting off service has been taken off the table for now.
On June 20, Commissioners for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), the regulatory body that oversees utility services in the state, voted to enact a temporary ban on power shutoffs for residential customers that will last until the fall.
The Commissioners voted to modify Arizona Administrative Code R14-2-211 to protect Arizona residential electric utility customers from the health risks that can occur with the loss of electricity service during the summer heat. The emergency rule amendments went into effect immediately, preventing residential electric utility customer service disconnections from June 1 through October 15. During the ban, the ACC will begin a formal regular rulemaking process to accept input and consider additional changes.
The action follows a report from the Phoenix New Times questioning the death of a customer of the an Arizona Public Service (APS) utility after her power was disconnected during high temperatures in the summer of 2018. Average summer temperatures in Phoenix, where the utility is headquartered, routinely exceed 100 degrees.
On June 13, two days after the New Times report, the utility announced in a press release it would halt customer disconnects for 30 days.
The incident has invited speculation that rate increases by APS in 2017 have contributed to an increase in power shutoffs as more customers are unable to pay their bills.
At the time the moratorium was approved, the ACC also initiated a probe into the customer’s death. The results of that investigation were inconclusive. While the utility asserted that it had complied with all of the Commission’s rules, staff concluded it had insufficient documentation to verify the utility’s assertion.
And the controversy continues, as the internal investigation itself has become the focus of scrutiny. On July 1, Commissioner Lea Márquez Peterson called for an independent outside investigation of her own commission’s investigation and conclusions surrounding the death of the APS customer.