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Consumer Groups in Arizona Issue COVID-19 Utility Related Recommendations for Policy Makers and Arizonans
According to two consumer organizations that are actively engaged in utility policy in Arizona, without at least temporary relief and clear communication, Arizonans are likely to face even greater challenges paying utility bills for the foreseeable future. The groups noted that due to public health warnings associated with COVID-19, many more Arizonans are working from home and taking classes online.
In a statement the organizations said that, “Although the Arizona Corporation Commission, utilities and non-profits cannot fix the crisis on our own, at least some of the angst of ratepayers can be alleviated through mitigating reliability, safety and financial concerns and by visibly and frequently communicating the measures underway to protect consumers.”
The organizations offered recommendations for the Arizona Corporation Commission, utilities and consumers and provided links to recent utility policies.
Cynthia Zwick, Executive Director of Wildfire: Igniting Community Action to End Poverty in Arizona said, “The Arizona Corporation Commission should be applauded for acting quickly to gather information on what utilities are doing to help customers during the Coronavirus crisis. A number of utilities also deserve credit for voluntarily putting a temporary halt to disconnections and late fees.”
Wildfire and the Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s policy recommendations include:
• Temporary disconnection moratorium for electric, gas, water, sewer and telecommunication utility services.
• Temporary moratorium on utility deposits and late fees.
• Minimum of an automatic six-month payment plan, with the ability to extend, for those falling behind on their utility bills.
• Opportunity for customers to switch rate plans with no penalties.
• Information for customers, upon request, about the least-cost rate plan for their household due to estimated changes in usage.
• Clear, consistent and direct ratepayer education about potential impacts of Time-of-Use and Demand Rate plans and the ability to switch rate plans with no penalties.
• Active promotion of financial assistance that is available to help pay utility bills.
Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, stated, “As the Arizona Corporation Commission and utility leaders work to provide protections for consumers during the Coronavirus, ratepayers can and should also take action by contacting their utility if they expect a significant change in usage or need financial assistance to pay their bill.”
Wildfire and the Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s recommendations for consumers include:
• Check with your utility on potential changes to their policies related to payments.
• Identify potential changes in your utility usage. For instance, the organizations say, if there are now members of your household working from home or if there is a child or children taking classes from home a Time-of-Use Plan or Demand Rate plan may no longer be the least-cost option for your household.
• Contact your utility to explore the least-cost rate plan for your household due to estimated changes in usage. If you deem best, switch plans now with the potential to further adjust at the appropriate time but first make sure your utility will allow an additional switch without penalty.
• If you are behind or anticipate having a hard time paying your electric bill, contact your utility as soon as possible to learn about financial assistance that may exist for your household. Ask your utility to set you up on a payment plan of six months, with the ability to extend if circumstances are warranted.
• Be on the lookout for utility and other scams. If in doubt, it is best to call your utility directly to ask questions or to make a payment. See the PIRG Education Fund’s tips on “Identifying Coronavirus Phishing Scams: How to protect your confidential information”.
The full list of recommendations and links to recent utility policy changes and statements can be found at https://bit.ly/2UbRrFy. For a list of organizations providing utility assistance, visit https://wildfireaz.org/find-help/energy-assistance/, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Wildfire at (602)604-0640.
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