As the presidential transition takes place and the new Congress and Arizona Legislature get underway, many of us will be paying attention and providing our perspectives. To say each branch of government — executive, legislative, judicial — has challenges and opportunities is nothing new.
What may be new to Arizonans is that bi-partisan elected members of the Arizona Corporation Commission are cognizant of problems that existed prior to COVID-19 and are seeking a range of timely and pragmatic solutions. If you are concerned about issues that impact your wallet and health such as water, gas, electric utility bills, our state’s energy mix, and railroad and pipeline safety, we encourage you to follow the Commission and express your views.
In laying out her vision for the Commission, Chairwoman Márquez Peterson highlighted her priorities which include both novel and common-sense methods to increase transparency; help expand broadband access; and streamline and innovate procedures related to rate cases. Additionally, Chairwoman Marquez Peterson’s priorities include areas in which Commissioner Kennedy has been a strong advocate, namely advancing and adopting policies on utility disconnections and clean energy. And under the leadership of Commissioner Olson, we are hopeful the Commission will also work together and expand the Code of Ethics.
The concepts expected to be a focus of the Commission have increasingly been in the spotlight due to COVID-19. However, measures being discussed to address inadequate procedures and policies are ones that made sense before the pandemic, make sense today, and will make sense in the future.
Consider the following:
Transparency and Public Participation. The more opportunities for Arizonans to know and weigh in, the more confidence we will have in decision-making processes and the greater our ability will be to discern whether decisions were made in the public interest.
Broadband. Our rapidly changing technology has enabled us more ways to connect with family and friends, yet the lack of broadband in regions of our state has proven a significant obstacle for working remotely or keeping up with schoolwork.
Ratepayer Education and Outreach. For Arizonans that have found themselves unemployed or underemployed, living paycheck-to-paycheck has taken on new meaning. Practical tips on reducing electric, gas, and water utility expenses, where to turn for financial assistance, and establishing a realistic timeframe to pay bills can help individuals and households that may otherwise find themselves spiraling into a debt trap or disconnected from services.
Infrastructure. Small water companies, particularly in rural Arizona, that haven’t kept up with infrastructure investments, may put the well-being of customers at risk. When small companies propose a rate increase after a decade or longer, customers have the potential to be faced with bill shock.
Just and Reasonable Rates. Ensuring just and reasonable rates for utility customers is fundamental to the mission of the Commission and will ultimately have one of the greatest — if not the greatest — impact on the day-to-day lives of those Commissioners serve.
As 2021 gets underway, we are very encouraged by the direction of the Commission and recognize in certain instances, such as broadband, other decision-making bodies will need to complement their work. Seeing the details in writing and paying close attention to how policies are adopted will determine whether they are beneficial to, and properly implemented for, Arizonans.
The Arizona PIRG Education Fund is resolved to continue to exercise the right to participate at the Commission, ensure integrity, and speak out when we disagree; expand the capability to connect with individuals, organizations, and businesses across our state; and help consumers save money through expanding energy efficiency programs and reining in unreasonable and unfair utility rates.
Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, an organization that conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. More information can be found at www.ArizonaPIRGEdFund.org.