PHOENIX – With summerlike heat already here and triple-digit temperatures around the corner, Arizonans are cranking up the air-conditioning in April. As electricity use increases, some Arizona residents who struggle to pay their power bill risk being disconnected.
Last week, the Arizona Corporation Commission took further steps to avoid a tragedy like the one that befell 72-year-old Stephanie Pullman of Sun City West, who died from environmental heat exposure and cardiovascular disease in September 2018 after her power was disconnected by Arizona Public Service. Pullman owed $51 on her bill, Phoenix New Times reported.
Her death prompted the five-member commission – which oversees public utilities in the state – to enact an emergency moratorium in 2019 barring public utilities from disconnecting customers who were late on their bills from June 1 through Oct. 15. When the pandemic struck, Arizona’s regulated utility companies extended suspensions and disconnections for nonpayment through the end of 2020.
On April 14, two years after the emergency moratorium was put in place, the commission voted 3-2 to preliminarily approve a package of measures regulating when utilities can shut off service for nonpayment. Commissioners Lea Márquez Peterson, a Republican, joined Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Anna Tovar to vote yes, while the two Republican commissioners Jim O’Connor and Justin Olson voted no.
Olson said Thursday he didn’t support the measures because they will “lead to an extensive moratorium” and “a substantial amount of the year would be excluded during that temperature threshold.”
“My concern is that we unintentionally create policies that drive up rates for ratepayers and in addition to that, we unintentionally make policies that result in an enticement for folks to build up large amounts of delinquent accounts that they cannot get out from under,” he said.
The proposals give utility companies the choice between a blanket moratorium from June 1 through Oct. 15 or a temperature-based threshold that prohibits shutoffs on days when temperatures reach 95 degrees.