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AZ Utilities Quietly Pursue Higher Electric Rates

Consumer advocates warn that large power companies are quietly proposing a rate plan before Arizona regulators that would allow them to bill customers for much more money for the same amount of electricity. (lauramusikanski/morguefile)
Consumer advocates warn that large power companies are quietly proposing a rate plan before Arizona regulators that would allow them to bill customers for much more money for the same amount of electricity. (lauramusikanski/morguefile)
March 18, 2016

PHOENIX - Regulated utility companies in Arizona are pursuing a new way to charge their customers that could significantly increase the average electric bill.

Consumer advocates say the utilities are quietly pushing a plan before the Arizona Corporation Commission that would radically change how bills for consumers and small businesses are calculated. Diane Brown, director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said that if the plan goes through, ratepayers will get a "double whammy."

"The regulated utilities in Arizona are proposing a 50 percent increase in the basic service charge," she said, "and also will experience a new, mandatory 'demand charge' fee."

Brown said large utilities such as Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Service are backing a rate case with a smaller utility - UniSource Electric - that would increase the basic service charge from $10 to $15, making it one of the highest in the country. In addition, the peak demand charge would set customer rates based on the highest hour of power usage per month. Such plans normally only apply to large, commercial customers.

The big utilities are putting money and expertise behind the rate case for UniSource to set a precedent for when their cases come before the commission, Brown said. She sees the demand charge as particularly unfair to residential consumers.

"While we encourage consumers to be energy-efficient," she said, "consumers should not be billed for the entire month if they choose to use several appliances at the same time."

Brown encouraged ratepayers to attend public hearings on the rate case on Tuesday in Nogales and March 31 in both Kingman and Lake Havasu City. People can comment or get more information on the commission website, azcc.gov.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ