LETTER: Utilities - Here we go again - Your West Valley News: Opinion

LETTER: Utilities - Here we go again

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Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2016 5:06 pm | Updated: 5:06 pm, Wed Sep 21, 2016.

It might look like another ho-hum story: A rural power company raising rates on customers again. 

But another story — about a troubling fee hike that causes unnecessary harm to seniors — will become apparent by the end of next month when about 90,000 UniSource Electric (UNS) customers open their mail and are surprised by how much their costs have increased.

The Arizona Corporation Commission approved increasing the UNS monthly customer charge from $10 to $15 per month. As a result, customers will now have to pay $180 a year for electricity, before they even flip a switch or turn on an air conditioner! UniSource residential electricity customers are mandated to pay this fee no matter how little electricity they actually use.

For seniors living month-to-month, at the edge of poverty on an inflexible Social Security payment, $15 a month is a lot of money. Many older Arizonans already have enough to worry about when the costs of maintaining our health and independence steadily increase.

Instead of raising the mandatory flat fee, utilities should charge based on how much electricity customers actually use. Not only does that make more sense, it also gives customers more control of their bills. With volumetric charges, those who want to save themselves $15 or more a month can simply conserve more electricity. With higher mandated monthly fees, that’s harder to do.

UniSource argued that it needed a high flat fee to pay for fixed costs like maintaining power plants. Nobody should fall for that! Most other utility companies are able to cover their fixed costs with minimal cost to the consumer. And other industries with high fixed costs, from airlines to hotels, use pricing measures based on customer usable (or volumetric pricing) which doesn’t require a fixed fee increase on their customers.

However AARP appreciates the new rates which will be offered to customers via new time of rate options. We look forward to learning more about these new optional rates.

Regulators should reject the precedent established by UniSource and take an approach that works better for customers, such as volumetric charges, where bills are primarily based on the amount of electricity customers use. Regulators have a responsibility to look out for electricity customers’ interests, and Arizona’s electricity customers need more — not less — control over their bills!!

Dana Kennedy

AARP Arizona state director

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