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Az residents get to keep A/C on during summer heat, even if late on utility bills
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Az residents get to keep A/C on during summer heat, even if late on utility bills

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Due to extreme heat, the Arizona Corporation Commission is requiring utilities to keep electricity on, even for residents behind on their bills. Temperatures have reached 114 degrees this week in Southern Arizona and metro Phoenix, and not having operating air conditioners or swamp coolers can be life-threatening for residents.

Residents are being encouraged to conserve energy by the state regulatory agency, which is responding to the extreme heat by reminding the state’s residents that they have the right to run air conditioning or swamp coolers, even if they’re behind on their utility bills. The ACC bars utilities from disconnecting customers when temperatures are too high.

Extreme heat warnings were issued by the National Weather Service for Pima and Maricopa counties on this week, along with Yuma, Coconino, Pinal and La Paz counties.

Temperatures in Phoenix have been rated “high,” by the NWS all week, meaning most people are at risk of heat-related illness. Parts of Southern Arizona were "dangerously hot" with temperatures as high as 114 degrees on Monday, particularly on the Tohono O'odham Nation and the western deserts but also for Tucson and the metro area, the NWS reported.

Temperatures are expected to continue approaching 115 degrees in the Phoenix area next week.

The Corporation Commission first issued a summertime emergency order, barring electric companies from cutting off any customers during times of extreme heat, following the 2018 death from heat and heart disease of a 72-year-old Sun City West woman who owed $51 on her bill when her power was disconnected. Since that moratorium, the ACC has strengthened its policies requiring utilities to continue to provide electricity during high-temperature periods.

The ACC regulates all of Arizona’s utilities, such as energy, heat, trash, water and communications, that aren’t owned by cities or towns. This includes Tucson Electric Power, which is owned by UNS Energy, a private corporation.

“During periods of extreme weather, regulated electric utilities are prohibited from disconnecting customers for reasons such as late payment, failure to pay, or carrying a bill arrearage,” the state agency wrote in a press release.

Utility companies have a choice between a blanket moratorium from June 1 through Oct. 15 or a temperature-based threshold that prohibits shutoffs on days when temperatures reach 95 degrees.

TEP follows the calendar standard as laid out by the Corporation Commission. Customers with overdue bills will be enrolled in a payment plan after Oct. 15, the company said.

Residents are encouraged to contact their utility companies if they’re worried about their services being shut off.

Regulated utility companies also offer bill payment assistance programs, according to the commission, and residents are encouraged to reach out to their providers for information about what programs they offer.

Extreme heat leads to higher energy bills and increased energy use, the commission reports, as more people go to the A/C for relief. Higher demands for A/C and cooling is “one of the largest drivers of overall utility costs,” according to the commission.

Arizonans should look into what energy efficiency programs their utility providers offer and try to commit to saving energy wherever possible, the commission advised

"As the hot weather continues for a few more months, the commission encourages all Arizonans to stay cool and do what they can to voluntarily reduce energy consumption," officials wrote.

ACC officials gave several tips for saving energy while staying cool:

  • Use fans
  • Close the curtains and blinds
  • Avoid using high-energy appliances during on-peak hours
  • Turn off the lights and unplug appliances that are not in use
  • Change your HVAC filters regularly, at least every six months
  • Invest in smart thermostats and energy efficient appliances, if possible

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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acc, aps, nws, phoenix, tep

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