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Diane E. Brown,
Arizona PIRG

NONPROFITS URGING SRP TO “HOLD HARMLESS” STRUGGLING LOW-INCOME FAMILIES, LOW-ENERGY USERS IN UPCOMING UTILITY RATE INCREASE

For Immediate Release

A coalition of nonprofit organizations serving and advocating for low-income individuals, families and consumers is concerned that Salt River Project’s current proposed rate increase will put low-income customers at even greater risk of homelessness and will penalize customers using the lowest amounts of electricity, including those who have invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

The Arizona Community Action Association (ACAA), Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG), Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club are asking the company’s Board of Directors to leave rates impacting these consumer groups where they are now.

SRP’s proposal calls for an average increase of 5.7 percent for most customers and a 5.1 percent increase in the discount credit that low-income families receive through SRP Economy Price Plan.  Currently, the plan offers a $17 credit each month to eligible customers.

The proposal also increases the basic monthly service charge, already among the highest in the nation, from $15 to $17 as the company moves more fixed costs into its monthly charges.  By comparison, Tucson Electric Power’s basic monthly charge is $7 and APS is at $8.55.

Even SRP’s consultant, Pacific Economics Group Research, pointed out in its report that “higher fixed charges result in disproportionately large price increases for smaller customers,” charges that are already “quite high” compared with other Arizona utilities.

“While it may not seem like a lot of money on the surface, when you look at the big picture, thousands of families in Arizona are already struggling simply to make ends meet,” said ACAA Executive Director Cynthia Zwick.  “Many of these families have never needed assistance in the past, but the economy has wreaked havoc on their lives.  For a lot of men and women, it comes down to deciding whether to pay the utility bill or feed their families and even a slight increase in their monthly expenses can mean the difference between having a place to live or being homeless.”

The 2010 Feeding America Hunger in America Survey showed that more than half of all working-poor households in the U.S. were forced to choose between purchasing food or paying for utilities.

In Arizona, nearly 19 percent of the state’s population lived in poverty in 2010, the fifth-highest percentage in the nation.  In SRP territory, approximately 670,000 people live at or below 150 percent of the federal level and nearly 33,000 are enrolled in the company’s Economy Price Plan.

The 2012 poverty level for a family of four is $23,050.  Two adults working full time at the Arizona minimum wage of $7.65 would earn $31,824 before taxes.

“Research shows that income and assets needed for self-sufficiency should total $60,540, but 24 percent of working people in Arizona are in low-wage jobs with an average net worth of $38,616,” Zwick said, adding both APS and Southwest Gas recently agreed not to raise rates for low-income residents.

The SRP board will take public comments at its board meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 10 and will vote on the proposed rate increases on Sept. 27.

“We will be at the public hearing along with men and women who are working two, three and even four jobs, but who continue to struggle to pay their bills despite their best efforts,” Zwick said.  “This is not an easy time for too many families in Arizona and we’re asking SRP not to make it more difficult for those who can least afford it.”

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