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Consumer groups are severely concerned about the impact on UniSource Electric residential electric customers, particularly low- and fixed-income customers, from an Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC)-approved rate increase and a 50 percent increase in the mandatory monthly fee or “basic service charge.”
As a result, UniSource rates will go up by nearly 15 percent and customers will have less control over their bills because of the service charge increase.
“Before they even flick a switch, many customers will be paying $15 a month,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association (ACAA). “UniSource already has a higher than average mandatory fee when compared with other utilities in the West. This increase exacerbates these already high fixed fees.”
Increasing the mandatory monthly fee also discourages conservation and energy efficiency, Zwick said. “The proposed fee hike means that even if a consumer turns off all of the electric appliances in their home, that person will still owe $60 more per year and they’ll pay $180 before turning on a single light bulb,” she said. “Many limited and fixed income Arizonans diligently work to conserve their energy usage, trying to keep their bills more affordable. Why should they not receive the full economic benefit of their careful conservation efforts?”
“Electric service is essential to Arizonans and affordability of this service for low- and fixed- income customers — whose energy burden is high in relationship to their income — is crucial,” said Diane E. Brown, Executive Director, Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “Affordable electricity is essential for lighting, refrigeration, and cooling. Unaffordable electricity in Arizona’s summer climate has dire consequences for customer health and safety. Consumers should be charged based on how much electricity they use and UNSE should be increasing opportunities for consumers to control the cost of their electric bills.”
Cat Trobaugh, a social worker and case manager providing home and community based services for the elderly with the Western Arizona Council of Governments who testified during the hearings, said the decision “will really affect the people that I serve because they simply can’t afford this level of increase.”
For many older Arizonans, managing monthly household expenses is a challenge. Seniors on limited and/or fixed incomes are already struggling with higher out-of-pocket medical expenses, plus they generally spend a higher percentage of their household income on utilities than younger age groups.
Brown said that one positive outcome was the ACC’s decision not to “approve mandatory demand charges on residential customers. Had these charges been adopted, residential customers would have had even fewer options relative to their electric bills.”
The ACC will be making decisions about rate cases involving both Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Serivce “that could also have potentially significant impact on residential customers’ bills.”
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