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Arizona commission report: Dead woman’s daughter didn’t file complaint

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX – An Arizona Corporation Commission staff inquiry said the daughter of a 72-year-old woman who died after her electricity was cut off during high heat asked about the service policy but never filed a complaint.

In the wake of a Phoenix New Times report earlier this month saying Stephanie Pullman may have died in September because Arizona Public Service turned off her power, the commission adopted a summertime ban on disconnections for overdue bills.

The day of the news report, Commissioner Justin Olson requested a staff inquiry into the incident, and a 43-page report on the findings was released Tuesday.

APS said Pullman’s final bill was $287.86 after her service was disconnected Sept. 7 following a string of shutoff notices and partial payments that began in June, according to the report.

On Sept. 17, Pullman’s daughter contacted the APS Consumer Services department about her mother’s service being disconnected and said her mother had died, the report says. The daughter was in touch with APS about the account several times over the next month.

The report says the daughter “never communicated to Consumer Services that she believed that Ms. Pullman’s death was in any way related to APS’s disconnection of service.”

The daughter “inquired about disconnection policies but did not file a complaint,” the report says.

However, the report concluded that while APS asserts it complied with the regulations regarding disconnections, commission staff could not confirm the protocol was fully followed.

Olson told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday it’s a problem that with commission rules that the inquiry couldn’t confirm whether APS followed protocol.

“Our rules require utilities to take specific action when a customer is elderly or low income or ill, and we need to be able to substantiate that in fact that action did occur,” he said.

The rules require a personal visit to the property, Olson said. APS said it complied with that requirement by leaving a hanger on Pullman’s door with a notice of intent to disconnect.

Olson said the commission has no way of confirming APS left the notice.

“Additionally, in my view a personal visit should include a personal contact with the customer. So that may be an area where our rules are not as clear as they need to be,” he said.

“And that’s why we have brought forward a rule-making procedure … to put into our rules updates that are needed in order to ensure that this tragic event does not occur again.”

After the New Times report, APS on June 13 announced a temporary halt to residential power disconnections over late payments. APS is the the state’s largest utility.

In an emergency vote on June 20, the commission banned most of the state’s power utilities from disconnecting service to residential electric customers who are late on their bills.

Additionally, power must be restored to any customers whose electricity was shut off this month, and any related fees must be credited.

The ban covers the period of June 1 to Oct. 15. The emergency rules can last up to a year while regulators develop final regulations on shutoffs in hot weather.

People who don’t have their electricity cut off for non-payment during the summer months would still be required to pay their bills.

The Arizona Corporation Commission is tasked with overseeing electricity, water and other firms granted monopolies to operate in certain areas of the state.

The commission sets rates based on a utility’s costs and a fair rate of return on its investments.

Salt River Project, a major power supplier in metropolitan Phoenix with about a million customers, isn’t covered by the commission because it is a quasi-government agency.

Editor’s note: A previous version erroneously stated the Arizona Corporation Commission found no link between the disconnection and the woman’s death. The commission does not rule on causes of death.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Nailea Leon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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