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Consumer Groups Seek Help for Jobless AZ Utility Customers

Hundreds of thousands of Arizonans have lost their jobs during the pandemic crisis and are facing high electric bills caused by Arizona's scorching summer climate. (RobertKeenan/AdobeStock)
Hundreds of thousands of Arizonans have lost their jobs during the pandemic crisis and are facing high electric bills caused by Arizona's scorching summer climate. (RobertKeenan/AdobeStock)
May 5, 2020

PHOENIX -- Arizona consumer groups want regulated power utilities to use cost savings from lower power demand during the pandemic to provide emergency aid to ratepayers.

The coalition is asking the Arizona Corporation Commission to prevent the state's largest private power utilities from using funds already earmarked for future energy-efficiency programs to pay for a proposed emergency customer relief package.

Diane Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, said that only would provide short-term benefits that could hurt ratepayers in the future.

"As we hit the hot summer months and a stay-at-home or modified stay-at-home order is in place, it is likely commercial electricity demand will drop, but residential electricity demand will increase," Brown said.

Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric are projected to save millions of dollars in operating costs due to lower demand. APS said they will discuss a variety of plan options with the commission at Tuesday's meeting. TEC did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown said it's important for state regulators to require the utilities to report net changes in their cost structure caused by lower demand during the COVID-19 crisis.

"The commission should ensure that APS and TEP have considered options such as cost savings due to a reduction in operating and fuel costs," she said.
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The Arizona Department of Economic Security said more than 400,000 workers have applied for unemployment assistance since the middle of March. More than half of them have had their claims rejected or are still waiting for a response. Brown said the need for help is growing.

"The commission is expected to vote on providing short-term relief this week," she said. "And we hope they will commit to voting on longer-term relief for electric bills through increased energy efficiency next month."

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund, along with coalition partners Building Performance Association and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, are encouraging unregulated public and co-op utilities across the state to also provide emergency relief to sturggling ratepayers.

Disclosure: Arizona PIRG Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Energy Policy, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ