The Arizona Corporation Commission at its Aug. 6 meeting approved changes to regulated utilities’ disconnection policies, flowing from the commission’s June 20 decision that adopted emergency rules to prevent shut-offs for nonpayment during the hottest months of this year.

The ACC adopted the new rules in response to the highly publicized death of an Arizona Public Service customer on a day with triple-digit temperatures in September 2018. The customer died after her service had been disconnected because she fell behind on her bills (see CEM Nos. 1544 [21] and 1545 [19]).

The utility policy modifications incorporate the commission’s June 1-Oct. 15 moratorium on residential disconnections for nonpayment; a new notification process during that period; limits on the specific days a utility is permitted to disconnect residential customers; and the suspension of late fees or interest accrual during the prohibition period. Two rural electric cooperatives in the northern part of the state, which is typically cooler, were granted partial waivers of the rules and are instead prohibited from nonpayment disconnections when temperatures reach 95 degrees or higher [RU-00000A-19-0132 Decision No. 77260; E-00000A-19-0128 Decision No. 77261].

A formal and permanent rulemaking on the matter is anticipated prior to May 2020.

Commissioners on the following day, at the ACC’s Aug. 7 staff meeting, continued last week’s workshop discussion on retail electric restructuring in Arizona (see CEM No. 1550 [18]). ACC Chairman Bob Burns sought commissioner comments on the issues of establishing a regional transmission organization in the state; providing customer protection in a restructured marketplace; the impact of restructuring on renewable-resource development; and an adequate rate analysis of states that have restructured their electricity industries.

Commissioner Boyd Dunn again urged a cautious advance and pressed the commission to gather as much information as possible, perhaps by forming working groups or hiring consultants.

“I could not think of a more significant policy issue this commission could ever take than to change how we do things as a commission and to adopt a whole new structure,” Dunn said, also emphasizing his priority of “always involving stakeholders.”

Staff’s goal is to provide the commission with recommendations that will withstand legal and technical challenges, Elijah Abinah, director of the ACC’s Utilities Division, said, reiterating his message from the previous week. Abinah said he would look at the division’s budget for consultants and determine how and whether such resources may be utilized.

Commissioner Lea Márquez Peterson reminded her colleagues to submit their concerns to the docket for staff research and consideration. She also expressed an interest in forming working groups, possibly chaired by commissioners, as part of the learning process.

Dunn said maintaining local control is a huge issue for him in considering retail electric restructuring, and that he wants to ensure the commission does not end up ceding its control to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or to California.

The commissioners also briefly discussed the possibility of reinstating a moratorium on new natural gas-fired generating facilities, which expired Aug. 1, but decided the item should be addressed at a monthly open meeting rather than a staff meeting.

Commissioner Justin Olson suggested that reactivating the moratorium be considered in light of the electric-restructuring discussion and a need to avoid stranded utility assets that could complicate progress on that issue. Commissioner Sandra Kennedy said a new moratorium should apply to power-purchase agreements for natural gas generation and not only to the construction of new facilities.