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Hot weather shutoff rules now in effect for some but not all electric customers

Posted at 7:11 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 22:22:33-04

Rules that prohibit Arizona utilities from shutting off power to customers during the hottest months of the year, became permanent on Monday.

The policy had been debated by state regulators, companies, consumer advocates and other stakeholders since June 2019, when it was first reported that 72-year-old Stephanie Pullman of Sun City died after her power was disconnected on September 7, 2018.

The temperature was 105 degrees that day, according to the National Weather Service. Pullman owed $51 after having made a partial payment to Arizona Public Service, APS, just days earlier.

Under the new permanent rules, electric utilities have the choice to pause disconnections June 1 through October 15 or pause them on days forecasted to be above 95 degrees or below 32 degrees.

Stacey Champion, a consumer advocate who pushed for protections in the disconnection policies, told ABC15 while she does not think utilities should have been given a choice, "I am relieved that these rules are done because I believe it has already saved lives."

Regulated utilities had been operating under emergency rules implemented by the Arizona Corporation Commission, ACC, in response to Pullman's death which disallowed disconnections June 1 through October 15.

APS, Tucson Electric Power and UniSource, which provides power in Mohave and Santa Cruz counties, confirmed that they will continue the date-based option.

But the state's second largest electric utility, Salt River Project, SRP, will not be implementing either option. Because it is not regulated by the ACC due to how it was formed in the early 1900's, the utility gets to make its own rules.

SRP stops shutoffs during excessive heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service, NWS.

It is the same policy that other electric utilities used prior to Pullman's death.

Champion believes it is not enough.

"I think it is appalling that [SRP is] not willing to follow suit of the regulated utilities," Champion said.

In 2021 the NWS issued 20 excessive heat warnings. In 2020, which was also the hottest summer on record, the agency said it issued 48 excessive heat warnings. Compare that to the 137 days that APS, TEP and UNS customer will be safe from shutoffs every year.

Champion said everyone deserves those protections.

"I think we still need statewide legislation. That was what I originally started with," she told ABC15, referring to her effort in 2019 to push a bill that would have given uniform disconnection standards to all electric utilities. It did not receive a hearing in the state legislature.

In a statement, SRP said it "goes to great lengths to avoid disconnection by providing a reminder letter and optional texts and email alerts when a bill is due or has gone past due." And it will not disconnect ratepayers with a balance of less than $300.

For now, Champion calls the codification of the rules a victory for the millions of Arizonans that are covered by them.

"What's more in the public interest than having people not die?" she said.

Additional electric utility termination policies going into effect include:

-Disconnections prohibited for customers that have paid at least half of their balance with in the last 25 days or if the balance is less than $300
-Allowing customers one missed payment without consequence, and payment plan for past due amounts

Various utility assistance programs are available for homeowners and renters across the state.

Community Action Agencies in each city and county accept applications for utility assistance.

Additionally, renters in every county can apply to the Arizona Department of Economic Security for help with utility bills.