APS, SRP, and Phoenix Water Services Suspend Customer Shutoffs Over Coronavirus

Arizona Public Service Company is the largest utility in Arizona.
Arizona Public Service Company is the largest utility in Arizona. YouTube
UPDATES: Tucson Electric Power announced Friday morning that it would suspend disconnections, after initially saying it would work with customers on a case-by-case basis. "We know some customers could face financial challenges because of this public health threat, so we are suspending service disconnections and late fees until further notice," the company said.

Southwest Gas also announced on Friday that it would immediately impose a moratorium on natural gas disconnections for unpaid bills. It is in effect until further notice, according to a statement from John Hester, the company's president and CEO. "We will also offer flexible payment options for customers experiencing financial hardships due to this issue."

Original story follows:

Arizona Public Service, the state's largest electric utility, will not cut power to its customers who have not paid their bills, due to COVID-19 concerns.

"We are suspending disconnecting service to residential customers for non-payment for the immediate future," spokesperson Jill Hanks told Phoenix New Times in an email on Thursday.

By Friday, the utility, which has 1.2 million customers across the state, expanded the moratorium to include all customers, not just residential, Hanks said. Asked how customers would be notified, she said that APS had posted the moratorium on its website.

Phoenix's Water Services Department, which brings water to more than 1.5 million people, also said that on Thursday it stopped all water shutoffs to residents who hadn't paid their bills.

It did so "to ensure residents have access to water for COVID-19 sanitation purposes," the city said in a press release.

The city also said it would reconnect those who had been disconnected for nonpayment, so they could have "low-flow water service adequate for sanitation and cooking."

To date, nine people in Arizona have tested positive for COVID-19, which has roiled markets and sparked fears of a global recession. Already, hundreds of people in a variety of industries have been laid off as the economic toll of the coronavirus deepens.

Other major electric, gas, and water utilities in Arizona are not suspending shutoffs for non-payment but say they are offering flexibility to customers who need more time or assistance with paying their bills.

"We’ll evaluate on a case-by-case basis and stand ready to help any customers affected by this pandemic," said Joe Barrios, a spokesperson for Tucson Electric Power. That assistance could include extensions to pay bills, enrollments in short-term assistance or discount programs.

"We know there are people whose paychecks will be interrupted by this situation, so we’re going to be flexible and help them get through it," Barrios said.

Southwest Gas would "work with" customers facing financial hardship, "whatever the reason," spokesperson Amy Washburn said. "We have a variety of programs in place to help customers who may need assistance paying their natural gas bill."

The Salt River Project is not suspending disconnections, spokesperson Scott Harelson said, although the company has asked its customer service representatives to "make every effort to work with our customers to avoid disconnections."

He added, "The coronavirus situation is changing very rapidly and SRP management is meeting right now to assess how to appropriately respond going forward."
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.