Arizona's regulated utilities are extending their suspensions of service disconnections for nonpayment and waiving late fees through the end of 2020 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic challenges that many customers continue to face.

Both Arizona Public Service and UNS Energy, the parent company of Tucson Electric Power and UniSource Energy Services, in response to the pandemic voluntarily suspended disconnections and waived late fees for both residential and business customers across their territories in March. APS and TEP provide electric power in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. UniSource provides electric power in northeastern Arizona's Mohave County and in Santa Cruz County south of Tucson; it provides natural gas service in both northern and southern Arizona.

On June 1, the Arizona Corporation Commission's seasonal hold on residential electric power disconnections for nonpayment went into effect. It is set to expire Oct. 15. The seasonal shut-off suspension, adopted by the commission in September 2019, applies to all investor-owned electric utilities and cooperatives in the state. The temporary measure came in response to the heat-related death of at least one APS customer following a service disconnection during triple-digit temperatures in 2018 (see CEM Nos. 1544 and 1545). The ACC continues to discuss rules for a permanent seasonal shut-off moratorium and will revisit the matter at its meeting Sept. 22 and 23 [E-00000A-19-0128].

Utility officials encouraged customers currently behind on their bills to seek assistance that could cover or reduce past-due balances. "It's a good idea to explore those options now to avoid a potential year-end rush," Monica Whiting, APS vice president of customer experience, said in a Sept. 15 news release. APS is offering payment plans and crisis bill assistance for qualified residential and business customers and has pledged $8 million in shareholder-funded pandemic relief, according to the release. TEP and UniSource will create payment plans for residential customers with past-due balances after Oct. 15 and will provide bill extensions and other assistance to qualifying customers.

The publicly owned Salt River Project, Arizona's second-largest electric utility, is exempt from ACC regulation and thus from the seasonal moratorium. Its seasonal shutdown suspension ends Oct. 1, at which time customers $80 or more in arrears who have not contacted the utility to make other arrangements will be put on an eight-month payment plan.

Farther east, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission in March adopted rules that extend nonpayment-related shut-off suspensions for residential customers through the duration of the governor's executive orders and related public health orders in response to the pandemic [20-00069-UT]. New Mexico's public health order was most recently extended through Oct. 2.

Nevada's NV Energy plans to resume disconnections for customers whose nonpayment is unrelated to pandemic circumstances beginning Oct. 22. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission's pandemic-related shut-off suspension ended in June, and regulated utilities there recently resumed sending shut-off notices to customers behind on their bills (see CEM No. 1606).

The California Public Utilities Commission in April ordered all investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities to suspend service disconnections due to nonpayment for both residential and commercial customers until April 16, 2021 [Resolution M-4842].

Staff Writer

Abigail Sawyer grew up in northwestern New Mexico near two massive coal-fired power plants. She spent many hours gazing out the car window at transmission lines on family road trips across the Southwest and now reports on the region from San Francisco.