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Arizona Corporation Commission Moves Forward With 95-Degree Rule For Power Shut-Offs

By Mark Brodie
Published: Thursday, April 15, 2021 - 8:40am
Updated: Monday, April 19, 2021 - 9:34am

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An APS utility meter on a home
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
An APS utility meter on a home in Phoenix.

On a 3-2 vote, the Arizona Corporation Commission has decided to move forward with the standard of 95 degrees as the point that utilities cannot be shut off.

In the past, the Corporation Commission enacted a rule to prevent shutting off residents’ electricity after reports surfaced that a 72-year old Valley woman had died in her home because of an unpaid bill; she owed $51.

Commissioner Lea Márquez Peterson says balancing financial health and physical health of customers is challenging.

"This vote just initiates the first step of a formal rulemaking process. We’ve taken a significant stride today and we’ll continue asking questions and gathering data over the summer, which will be able to inform our future decisions when this comes back to us in the fall."

Commissioner Justin Olson voted no, voicing concerns that this policy will lead to more debt for consumers.

Ryan Randazzo of the Arizona Republic joined The Show to talk about the Commission's move.

Interview Highlights

What were the options on the table, and what did the commission ultimately decide to do?

Well, they considered everything under the sun, as they have for the last two years, whether to use National Weather Service warnings, to set a temperature threshold of 90, 95 or 100 degrees or to just stick with a seasonal moratorium during the hottest part of the year. It's important that people understand that what is in place this summer — as we approach summer in Arizona — is the seasonal moratorium, which they passed as an emergency measure two years ago after the New Times broke the news that that a woman had died after after her power was cut. So from June 1 to October 15, the regulated utilities in the state will not be allowed to disconnect people for nonpayment.

It seems as though the commissioners decided against going with the National Weather Service advisory. So what did they ultimately come up with?

So they they did approve a new rule that should be in effect next summer, but it's got to go through a rulemaking process and that is to let utilities choose between using that seasonal moratorium that is, again, in place now or to use a temperature threshold of 95 degrees. And the amount of data and debate that went into that — and to try and reach a consensus where they had at least three votes— has just been exhaustive.

For the folks who had been pushing for a permanent rule for for something — Stacey Champion and others — who first brought this to the commission's attention, were they satisfied with what the Commission ultimately came up with?

Well, I think they would prefer probably 90 degree threshold, because 95 degrees is hot, and your house is going to be hotter than ninety five degrees. If you if you turn off your air conditioning then. Their goal, as they've stated many times, is zero deaths. And if you really wanted zero deaths, then you wouldn't be shutting people off. But I think what the Commission went for was better than some of the options on the table, like just letting the utilities basically choose all the rules. So it was a compromise, as many things are at the Corporation Commission, and a wildly complex one. But they did definitely gain some ground in the last two years. It's a lot of hard work, but they have changed policy in favor of consumers.

Would the new rules also raise the minimum that a customer has to owe before a utility can threaten to shut them off?

Yes, and I believe it's $300 now. So they're not going to be shutting people off for petty cash. And I don't think — I'd have to go back and look at my notes — I don't think the utilities pushed real hard on the on the dollar threshold. In a way, I think that probably benefits them because they focus on the biggest debts out there. And the key in all of this is that most people, the vast majority of people eventually pay their bill because it's your air conditioning, it's your electricity, it's your refrigerator to keep food. So the vast majority of customers do eventually pay this debt because they want to continue to live in their homes and you basically need electricity to do that. So for the utilities, it's a matter of what threat they can hold over customers to to get them to do that. And obviously, it's easier to get folks to pay when when you can threaten to cut their power off. But even without that threat, they still get folks to pay this debt.

Skyview contributed to this story. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the attribution of a quote to Lea Márquez Peterson.

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