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Commissioners press Don Brandt with questions

Sandra Kennedy on Thursday at a meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission called to discuss demanding information from APS CEO Don Brandt. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Sandra Kennedy on Thursday at a meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission called to discuss demanding information from APS CEO Don Brandt. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

State utility regulators ratcheted up their demand for answers from the head of Arizona Public Service late Friday with a list of 67 questions.

And they have some sharp queries about how the utility handled the case of a 72-year-old Sun City West woman who was found dead in her home last year after the company cut off her power.

In a formal request, all five members of the Arizona Corporation Commission said they have set aside the afternoon of Aug. 7 for Don Brandt to explain to them the policies that “contributed to the deaths of … APS ratepayers.” They also told Brandt he can bring along “appropriate APS executives and employees to assist you in your responses.”

At this point, though, company officials have said no decision has been made whether Brandt himself will testify.

But several of the commissioners already have made it clear they want to hear from him and not his underlings, specifically as it relates to company practices and procedures.

More to the point, they have left the door open to a formal subpoena if he does not show. And if he ignores that, it could lead to sanctions against the company.

The request to hear from Brandt is not a surprise. Regulators expressed similar sentiments earlier this month.

But what is of note is the level of detail they want from him about what happened not only to Stephanie Pullman but also in two other cases (the customers are not named), where the utility settled with survivors. At the very least, regulators want to know whether these settlements were paid for with dollars collected from ratepayers.

Don Brandt

Don Brandt

A lot of the questions come down to what APS does when a customer is late on payments to educate them about assistance options and repayment plans. Regulators also want to know about the process for a customer – presumably someone elderly or vulnerable – to designate someone else for APS to contact if a bill is not paid.

But then there are specific issues with what happened to Pullman.

According to the commission, the utility said it put a “door hanger” at her residence on Sept. 5, 2018, and her power was disconnected two days later.

“This would not have given Ms. Pullman enough time to mail in a payment even if she responded immediately to the notification,” the commissioners said in their questions. Yet the prior month, APS accepted payment from her six days after a similar notification without disconnecting power.

“Why was there a discrepancy in policy between August and September?” the commissioners want to know. “Isn’t it reasonable to assume Ms. Pullman felt she may have had additional time to respond to the most recent door hanger based on historical precedent?”

Related to that, according to the commissioners, is that their own rules require a utility to “make a personal visit to the premises” prior to disconnection.

The utility has said that was done by a third-party contractor. But that answer has not satisfied the regulators.

“Did they know on the door?” the commissioners want Brand to tell them.

“Did they initiate conversation?” the questions go on. “Does the company believe that hanging a door hanger is sufficient to satisfy this requirement?”

Then there’s the fact that she – or someone on her behalf – actually had paid $125 toward her bill, $51 short of the full amount, yet the power was disconnected just two days later.

“Is that typical?” the commissioners asked. They also want to know if there any attempt to notify Pullman that her partial payment would not forestall power disconnection.

And they want to know whether Pullman’s bill was higher or lower than it was before regulators approved allowing the utility to collect another $95 million from customers.

For the moment, there should be no additional disconnections. The commission approved an emergency rule barring utilities from cutting off customers between June 1 and Oct. 15 while they consider a more permanent change in the regulators.

On a more generic level, regulators want Brandt to discuss the company’s disconnection policies, how much time customers are given to try to pay down their bill, how the company typically responds to partial payments of delinquent bills, and how many customers made partial payments and still were disconnected.

APS has said there were more than 110,000 disconnections in 2018, though they said some of these were duplicates at the same residences.

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