What features 16 speakers, poetry and a panel of officials?
On any other occasion, “poetry slam” would have been a good guess. Unfortunately, the correct answer was: The Arizona Corporation Commission public comment meeting that took place March 29 at Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus.
Three commissioners out of five — Andy Tobin, Boyd W. Dunn and Bob Burns — met before the public to hear opinions about Arizona Public Service’s proposed rate increase, which was filed in June 2016.
Originally, APS sought a monthly increase of 7.96 percent for consumers, approximately $11 per household. Subsequently, APS delivered a settlement request for a monthly increase of 4.5 percent for consumers, approximately $11 per household per year.
Following public comment hearings and input from registered interveners, the commissioners will vote on the increase before an administrative law judge.
Prior to public comments, the commissioners briefly spoke.
“The utility typically comes in and requests a rate change. That is typically up,” Burns said, adding that the proposed increase had already been through extensive analysis. “Our staff actually recommended no increase. The Residential Utility Consumer Office recommended a decrease.”
Burns said that the commissioners were required to remain neutral until all of the facts and public input are gathered. Nonetheless, he noted that Salt River Project’s recent rate changes went unaided and unhindered by the commission.
“APS is the largest utility in the state and is regulated by the commission,” Burns said. “SRP is the second largest and they are unregulated. [Their] rates have historically been lower than APS. They recently lowered their rates.”
“Every rate case is different .... APS covers a far broader area than SRP, for certain,” Dunn countered, but also noted that the commission had heard consistent concerns from the public following the proposed rate increase.
“This is an ongoing process [and] it has to go through the hearing process, which is very involved,” Dunn said. “The facts are going to have to be presented.”
Tobin offered few comments about the settlement, recommending instead that the public do its own research via the commission website.
“Now we’re at the point where we’re ready to listen to the folks this impacts, the consumers,” Tobin said. “Our purpose is to listen .... There won’t be much back and forth.”
Sixteen people, most from Verde Valley and Sedona, but a few from as far away as Payson and Chino Valley, spoke in opposition to the rate increase. Nine out of the 16 mentioned — once, notably, in the form of a poem — the alleged negative health effects of smart meters, installed by APS last year.
A number of individuals spoke of living on fixed incomes and the negative effects even a minor increase would have on their budget.
“My pension does not go up,” Sybil Malinowki-Melody of Clarkdale said. “I’ve done everything I can to reduce costs.”
Like Malinowki-Melody, Stephen Adelsman of Cottonwood lives on a fixed income and installed solar panels to reduce his bills.
“I’m enhancing the production of electricity, but they’re asking for more,” he said. “I just want to voice our strong opposition to the rate increase .... I hope this commission will take the best interest of the customer [into account].”
Former Sedona City Councilwoman Barbara Litrell expressed a lack of confidence in the ACC, saying that elected commissioners had taken large donations from APS and could not be considered independent. A rate increase, she added, would “further enhance the paychecks of CEOs.”
“I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of people up here begging for an increase,” former Sedona City Councilwoman Jessica Williamson said, and reminded the commissioners that they bear the responsibility of their decision.
“We have nobody to protect us from price gouging, except you,” Williamson said. “You are the only thing that stands between a corporation, whose job is to make money, and us, the rate payers.”
According to APS Public Information Officer Anne Stewart, the current rate agreement “includes optional demand rates that will provide more ways for customers to save money [and refunds of] $15 million of surplus energy efficiency program funds over the first year that new rates are in effect.”