Staffers Ask Arizona Corporation Commission To Re-Examine APS Rates
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The drama between APS and the Arizona Corporation Commission is continuing as commission staffers are recommending APS rates get an official re-examination. It's all surrounding a battle related to whether the utility wasn't fully forthcoming about how individual customer rates would be affected by a change in rate plans. Some have seen a reduction while others have been hit hard by higher costs. Arizona Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo is with us for more details Ryan good morning.
RYAN RANDAZZO: Morning.
GOLDSTEIN: So Ryan where are we at in terms of what this actually means? So staff of the Corporation Commission is recommending this. What are the steps and how much is the timeline here?
RANDAZZO: Well the staff is recommending that APS file a rate case by October 31. I have a hard time imagining that the commissioners are going to oppose that. I think they're very likely to order that rate case. There's going to be some debate over what time period that covers. But I guess what we can expect is you know a rate case to be filed sometime later this year, and then what's usually about a 12 month process before regulators decide on what to do — whether to raise them, lower them and maybe alter the rate plans.
GOLDSTEIN: Is there a timeline typically how often APS or any other utility would ask for a rate case situation? How often does that happen?
RANDAZZO: Well more recently it's common that they get their final rate decision after about a year of negotiations and then there's a stay out, and that's part of the negotiations, and the stay out means you know they're ordered they say you can't file another rate case before such and such date. That's usually about 18 to 24 months. But sometimes, as is happening now, the commissioners and staff decide that they don't want to wait that they'd really like to see the company sooner.
GOLDSTEIN: So we have a new commissioner: Lea Marquez Peterson. I know it's probably too soon to tell, but based on her past, is there any indication she would vote any differently on reopening or dealing with a rate case than Andy Tobin would have.
RANDAZZO: Well it's going to be interesting because she has to run for election to keep that seat that she was appointed to. And I think it's going to be difficult for anyone to win election to the Corporation Commission if they are seen as being friendly towards APS. So I'm not positive that she's going to get to vote next week, I would think she is. But you know that could mean that someone has to run for office, their first decision is a major one dealing with the state's biggest utility and something that could be controversial as the election nears.
LAUREN GILGER: So that's striking what you just said there about the next election and how politics are playing into this, Ryan. Like how much has this changed just in the last couple of election cycles?
RANDAZZO: Well there's a lot more scrutiny on the Corporation Commission today. There's no doubt about that. And that goes back several years to having one commissioner resign at the direction of the attorney general, another one brought up on federal corruption charges and another one in a text messaging snafu where the public records requests couldn't be answered because the phone was thrown away and you know the commission is just under a ton of scrutiny and now you have this major challenge to APS's rates. So you've got all the customers paying attention — it definitely seems a lot more political to me. And I don't want to imply that the decision is going to be based entirely on politics. But I've got to think that's in the back of the commissioner’s mindset at this point.
GOLDSTEIN: Ryan if you had a chance to talk with Stacy Champion the local activist who is involved in trying to get APS to have to reopen this rate case?
RANDAZZO: Well I haven't spoken with her since she got a decision by the commissioners to not dismiss her case, which was not a loss for her, but also not exactly what she was looking for. But I think you know her complaint is definitely the reason why the commissioners were continuing to look at APS rates and why the staff has now recommended that the company come back for a rate case.
GILGER: Any response from APS on this? This is not great news for them I'm sure.
RANDAZZO: I think that's not necessarily true because they get to now plead their case in front of commissioners again in a forum that they're more accustomed to, a rate case rather than a rate complaint. And I don't think they're going to come back and say 'yeah, lower our rates' they're going to get to make a request and I'm sure that's going to be for higher rates. They've they spent money in New Mexico on a coal plant and they expected to be charging customers for those upgrades at this point. That's been delayed because of the Champion complaint. So, I think they're going to come in and ask for that money. They're going to ask for a rate increase I would expect. If they don't, that'll be the headline, that they come in and voluntarily say lower our rates. I just don't predict that's what they're going to say.
GILGER: Fair enough. All right, Arizona Republic reporter Reporter Ryan Randazzo thank you for joining us.
RANDAZZO: Have a great day.