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Customers looking for relief from high utility bills amid record heat

Phoenix
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 10:13:12-04

PHOENIX — Residents around the Valley say they are getting creative when it comes to managing their utility bills, but even then, it may not be enough.

Some only have a limited income because of the Coronavirus pandemic, while others say there is little to be done while socially distancing at home during these record-breaking temperatures.

"Last summer, I was at $294 this exact month. This summer, I'm at $324," said Angie Castro, an APS customer.

She says she has spent thousands trying to weatherproof her home and upgrade to energy-efficient appliances, all to save in the long run. However, that does not seem to be the case.

"What's funny is, I think, last month's bill, I used less energy, but it was more money," said Castro.

She says when she has asked APS for help sorting out the higher bills, they have only suggested setting the thermostat at 80 degrees or higher. Their other piece of advice: do not use power during peak hours.

"I still should be at a lower bill because everything is energy-efficient in this house now," said Castro.

For months now, The Let Joe Know team has been pushing local utility companies, including APS and TEP, as well as the Arizona Corporation Commission that regulates them to take a critical look at these rising costs.

Companies like APS say they are offering financial assistance to those who qualify, while Commissioners have told us in the past that they are looking into options. Those options have included a possible emergency rate due to the pandemic or a reversal of the most recent rate increases.

However, months later, these options have not become a reality and the problem seems to be growing.

In July, APS said they received more than 40,000 calls from customers mentioning COVID-19 or an inability to pay their bill.

While they have not said that number has increased, APS is reassuring customers no one will have their utilities turned off due to an inability to pay.

In a statement they say:

  • With record-breaking temperatures and new records for the duration of high-heat days we’re experiencing, we understand customers are using more power and, as with any product, buying more of it typically means you are spending more. (If and how much using more electricity will cause a bill to go up depends on which APS service plan a customer is on and how and when they use energy… different customers in similar sized homes on different service plans and different daily routines or family sizes and behaviors might experience entirely different month-to-month bill changes.)
  • We are very aware of the current situation many Arizonans are facing, as we are Arizonans too. Whether it’s working from home, kids learning from home and just staying at home more due to COVID-19, we know life has changed and utility bills against household budgets really matter at this time – especially for those who may be without work or who have lost household income.
  • We would love your help ensuring viewers know there are no disconnections for non-payment until October 15. Even then, most residential customers who are behind on their bills will be put on an automatic six-month payment arrangement. During that time, we encourage them to stay in touch with us as we will remain as flexible as we can in helping them pay down any overdue balances. (Also, a customer must be at least $300 overdue before disconnection is even a possibility.)
  • Bill relief from our Customer Support Fund is still available and we encourage anyone who may need help with their bills to contact us. A $100 bill credit, and other forms of assistance, may be available to them and just a phone call away.

Our focus is on providing customers with choices in how they can lower their bills as much as possible while staying cool and having the convenience and comfort of reliable power. We offer rebates on things like smart thermostats, and ac upgrades and have many money-saving ideas on aps.com/tips. On aps.com/support, customers can find ways to manage their bills with programs like Budget Billing and Choose Your Preferred Due Date, as well as support like COVID-19 relief, crisis bill assistance and limited income discounts. If customers prefer to speak to a person, we encourage them to contact our Customer Care Center advisor. The phone number is on their bill.

Something to note, however, is the growing need for help. It is not just an APS problem.

SRP, a utility company not regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission, says they are seeing customers struggle to pay bills. They say more than 100,000 customers have some form of accumulated debt or past-due balance currently. In all, that debt adds up to an estimated $42 million.

In a recent statement they say:

SRP continues to work with many customers throughout this summer to place them on customized payment plans and find available financial assistance for those eligible. This is all in effort to help customers pay back any past-due balances they may have accrued during SRP’s six-month COVID-19 ban on power disconnects. Our goal is to assist customers in getting out of debt and help them avoid facing a potential power disconnection in the fall.

When SRP’s COVID-19 moratorium on disconnects ends on October 1, all customers with a past-due balance of $80 or more will be automatically placed on an eight-month payment plan to gradually pay off the total balance of their accrued debt. These customers will not be disconnected as long as they begin to make payments against their total balance.