Arizona Public Service knew of problems with its rate comparison tool, which is supposed to help customers find their most economical plan, since 2017, new records show, contrary to the utility’s claims that it learned about those problems only in November.
“I found out today from a representative at APS who contacted me that the tool comparison box was inaccurate and has been temporarily removed from their site,” one APS customer told the Arizona Corporation Commission on August 24, 2017, according to a filing by Arizona Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy on Friday. “Apparently, it was putting out much higher increases due to a software glitch.”
In her filing, Kennedy wrote, “The evidence shows that the tool has been faulty from the very start, and the ratepayers have been telling us — APS and the Commission — for the past two years.”
She cited more than 8,000 pages of customer complaints, inquiries, and comments that she received on Thursday, a week after requesting those documents from Corporation Commission staff, and a day after Kennedy and her fellow Corporation Commissioners publicly grilled APS about the problem, which affected at least 10,000 people and which only came to light after an Arizona Republic story.
The selection of complaints included in her filing show that when customers voiced concerns about the tool's accuracy, sometimes APS dismissed them, and sometimes it admitted that it was “experiencing an issue” with the tool. When APS told the Corporation Commission that the tool worked fine, regulators accepted the utility’s answers.
For the past month, APS has insisted that it first learned in November about flaws with its rate comparison tool. During Wednesday’s hearing, APS executives maintained that story.
“November is the date that this came to our awareness,” Melissa Krueger, a senior attorney with APS parent company Pinnacle West, told commissioners.
But the complaints quoted by Kennedy in her filing, who insinuated that APS was baldly lying — the documents “tell a very different story than the one fed to us Wednesday,” she wrote — indicated otherwise.
One customer, who filed a complaint with the Corporation Commission on December 4, 2017, said that the tool was “falsely making [some of the new plans] look better than they are.” That customer also noticed that the tool inaccurately reported the costs of her actual plan as “much higher” than they actually were.
But when the Corporation Commission asked APS about that complaint, wanting to know whether there was a discrepancy between the customer’s bill history and the numbers that the rate comparison tool spat out, the utility’s representative said no.
On January 22, 2018, a third APS customer contacted the Corporation Commission with questions about price increases, saying that although the rate tool showed he’d save money, “their analysis is inaccurate.”
When the Corporation Commission followed up with APS, the same representative said, “Mr. [redacted] contacted APS and stated his belief that the rate comparison tool on the Company’s website is inaccurate. The Company advised him that the rate comparison tool is inaccurate.”
Kennedy’s letter also included heart-wrenching testimonial, dated February 24, 2018, from a customer who said that she was trying to use the rate comparison tool to find the cheapest plan. “It looks as if I’m slowly being driven out of my home with APS rate increases,” her complaint said.
“I have contacted APS customer service representatives five times now to help me make a plan choice decision,” the complaint said. But those reps couldn’t say where the data came from, or how to use it to make a decision. “Is there nothing the Commission can do to help us?” the woman pleaded.
Later, APS told her that “the Company was currently experiencing an issue with the Comparison tool,” the complaint showed.
A spokesperson for APS said she could not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
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In Kennedy’s filing, she wrote that she had “thousands more pages, many detailing similar complaints.” She added, “Customers screamed their concerns about the tool from the rooftops, and no one listened.”
On Wednesday, APS CEO Jeff Guldner told commissioners that the company would give credits to the 10,000 customers who, since February 4, had followed the flawed rate comparison tool to switch to the plan that was not the most economical for them. APS would also give each customer $25 for the inconvenience, he said.
In her filing, Kennedy called for APS to expand that compensation, and to give refunds to customers who’d been affected since 2017, not just February. She also decried $25 as woefully inadequate.
“The ratepayers have been swindled by this Company for years and they offer a $25 ‘credit?’” she wrote. “What a slap in the face."