Commentary: APS rate case: Not over until ACC votes

Diane E. Brown

Diane E. Brown

The Arizona Public Service rate case is not over.

On August 15, the five elected members of the Arizona Corporation Commission will tackle the APS rate case. The Commissioners, not APS, will ultimately determine whether the monthly basic service charge and the rates of APS customers’ increase; if new customers, not APS, get to choose their initial rate plan; and if residential and small business ratepayers will have more or less ability to control their energy use and therefore save money.

More than 70 small businesses; consumer organizations; and hundreds of residential ratepayers from Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cornville, Cottonwood and across APS territory have already urged Commissioners to protect consumers and not fumble their decision.

To best protect consumers, we encourage the Commissioners to use our playbook:

• Sack proposed increases. The proposed increases in the monthly basic service charge and in overall rates are unwarranted. If approved, many customers will see a 73 percent increase in their monthly basic service charge with no options to reduce that fee. Instead of a mandatory increase (which customers must pay no matter how little electricity they use), Arizonans should be primarily charged on the amount of electricity that they do use.

• Take possession of how to best use unspent demand-side management (DSM) funding. DSM funding typically offers financial incentives to reduce energy use. Recently, the Commission approved using unspent DSM funding to help fund energy efficiency projects in schools. The Commission should keep running with cost-effective energy efficiency programs to save money for residential and small business ratepayers.

• Score a win by providing customers with more control over their bills. Customers win when they, not their utility, are in control of their electricity bills. New customers should not be subjected to a default rate plan for the first 90 days – customers, not APS, should choose the plan that works best for them. Additionally, time-of-use plans are most beneficial to reduce peak demand and benefit ratepayers when customers are best able to control their energy use. A three-hour time frame is manageable but APS’ proposal for a five-hour period is unrealistic for many families and other households.

While this may seem like a “Hail Mary” game plan, it isn’t. In the last year, due in part to consumer input, unfair utility charges -- including a new mandatory residential demand charge -- were eliminated or reduced in the UNS Electric and TEP rate cases.

And as last year’s Super Bowl illustrates, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” The Commissioners can count on cheers from many APS ratepayers if they vote to protect consumers. Let’s hope they rise to the occasion and become our champions.

Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. The Arizona PIRG Education Fund conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. Diane can be reached at dbrown@arizonapirg.org

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