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Arizona utility regulators still deciding how hot is too hot for shutoffs

Hot weather, heat, sun, summer, power lines
Posted at 7:22 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 22:22:05-04

The rules to standardize when state-regulated utilities can disconnect service during summer and winter weather has been discussed by the Arizona Corporation Commission for nearly two years.

On Wednesday they are expected to discuss the topic again, and this time may even take a vote.

But commission staff, consumer advocates and utilities still widely disagree on exactly how to determine which hot and cold days are too dangerous to cutoff electricity service.

In proposed rules commission staff suggested that utilities be allowed the choice of which termination ban options to implement.

They are:
-During a National Weather Service heat or winter weather advisory
-Forecasted temperatures above 100 degrees and below 32 degrees or
-Calendar dates June 1 through October 15

Stakeholder opinions vary. In a docketed response to staff recommendations AARP said the group “strongly opposes the proposal to allow each utility to pick its own regulation” and took issue with the National Weather Service heat advisory option. Instead, the group is advocating a 95-degree limit on disconnections and a $300 delinquency threshold before utilities can begin the process.

Professor David Hondula, with ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, suggested “setting disconnection rules based on calendar dates, rather than weather forecasts, would be a significantly more manageable experience for customers.”

Non-profits Wildfire and Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) support the $300 threshold, want increased communication from the utilities to customers and support the use of National Weather Service advisories.

Prior to 2019 utilities had been relying on National Weather Service advisories to determine which hot and cold days were too dangerous to disconnect electricity service.

Emergency rules that ban disconnections from June 1 through October 15, were implemented in June 2019 following a Phoenix New Times report that 72-year-old Stephanie Pullman died inside her Sun City West home after Arizona Public Service disconnected her electricity on a 105-degree day in September 2018.

Consumer advocate Stacey Champion has been pushing for the ban to begin at 90 degrees.

“I think the goal should be zero deaths,” she said. “If the goal is zero deaths, then it has to correlate with the data that shows that at 90 degrees you’re probably not going to get people dying inside. If it’s 95, I think we’re still going to see people dying in their homes.”

Once approved the proposed rules would go formal rulemaking process which would include additional public comment and a final vote of the Commission.