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Protesters demand Phoenix-area utility drop new price plan

A protester's sign. (KTAR Photo/Sharon Mittelman)

PHOENIX — About 50 people protested in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday to demand Arizona’s largest utility drop a proposed rate increase.

The protesters carried signs and chanted “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Demand charges have got to go” outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel near Second and Monroe streets.

The protest targeted a rate increase proposed by Arizona Public Service. If the hike is approved, residential customers will see their bill go up about 8 percent. Most will be moved to  a billing plan that charges them more if their power use surges during peak hours.

“Demand charges hurt poor people, hurt fixed income people, and hurt consumers overall,” Sandy Bahr, head of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club, said.

Bahr said demand charges can cause electric bills to skyrocket.

“They’re very confusing, they’re difficult to plan for and they can cause extreme increases in electric bills,” she said.

Bahr said she hopes APS withdraws its current proposal and considers other methods of adjusting its rate structure.

The rate hike would also affect APS customers with solar power. The utility wants to end solar power buyback plans it says don’t fairly cover the costs of providing power to homes with solar panels starting in mid-2017. Existing rooftop solar customers will keep their current rates for 20 years after they are connected.

The filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission kicks off a yearlong rate case that APS hopes ends with the new rates in effect by July 1, 2017.

Commercial rates would also increase, but would only go up between 1 and 6 percent. Some discount programs would be ceased.

APS also will boost the amount of money it sets aside to help low-income customers pay their bills by 35 percent, to $48 million. That will allow more people to use the programs. It’s also proposing a simplified flat-discount plan of $34 per month for those customers.

The company serves 1.2 million residential and commercial customers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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