How are utility companies helping Arizona customers during pandemic, and is it enough?

Arizona Utilities Politics APS
Posted at 5:38 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 14:07:08-04

PHOENIX — Many APS and Tucson Electric Power customers will be seeing a refund on their utility bills for fees collected, but were unused.

The companies giving that refund say they want to help those impacted financially by COVID-19, but now the question is, will that be enough?

A loss of work, waiting on unemployment, and mounting bills is the reality for so many Arizonans.

For Christina, an APS customer, she said paying her bill is not an option during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither she or her fiancé have work and they have a 15-month-old baby.

They're one of thousands of customers calling their utility companies asking for help.

APS said between March 16 and April 20, it received more than 19,000 calls to their customer care center, each one someone either unable to pay their bill or mentioning COVID-19.

Tucson Electric Power did not respond to ABC15's emails or phone calls.

This week, the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates APS and TEP, approved those companies to refund millions in fees they collected for energy-efficient programs but haven't been used.

However, you may only see a credit of a few dollars on your June bill. So, what's next?

APS told the Arizona Corporation Commission they have to reevaluate their plans to give discounts and bill forgiveness to customers in need after commissioners blocked the company from making ratepayers foot the bill.

They say shareholders have donated about $5 million in earnings, but now they say that may need more money.

One of the most outspoken on customers getting relief is Commissioner Sandra Kennedy.

"You know, they paid their CEO $10 million, $10 million, and just recently last year, $35 million a year. So, there's some money somewhere and shareholders should have some skin in this game to give some relief to their ratepayers," said Kennedy.

The other commissioners are still unclear on where they stand. The Let Joe Know Team received no response from Chairman Bob Burns and Justin Olsen when asked what companies should be doing right now.

SRP, which is not regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission, said they have several plans in place to help customers, but have not directly said if it has plans to expand that help, especially with the number of customers having outstanding bills doubling.

Robbie, an ABC15 viewer, wrote into the Let Joe Know team: "those already struggling are about to get blindsided and this is going to hurt most of us when we most need to be able to stay safely comfortable at home."

One thing that came out of this in a separate staff meeting is that commissioners have asked companies to add an "emergency rate" or lower rate to future rate plans in case this ever happens again.

In the meantime, we will keep pushing for help right now!