PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Arizona Public Service says it will not disconnect the electricity of residential customers who are behind on payments while it reviews its policies.
It's a temporary move that comes on the heels of several hotter-than-average days and a week before the official start of summer.
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One reason for the decision was the death of a customer last year “in which heat may have been a contributing factor after electricity service was disconnected,” APS said.
The woman who died was Sun City West resident Stephanie Pullman.
Pullman's daughter, Jeanine Smith, believes her mother might still be alive if APS had not cut off power to her home.
According to the Maricopa County coroner's report, one of Pullman's causes of death is listed as "environmental heat exposure."
"[I] tried getting a hold of Mom, but she wasn’t answering the phone. Sent out the Sun City West posse, and the sheriff’s office found her dead in her bed," said Smith.
Records from The Arizona Corporation Commission say APS mailed several notices to Pullman before it turned off power for non-payment on Sept. 7 of last year.
"I don’t see how you could shut off someone’s electric in triple-digit weather," said Smith. "In my heart I believe they’re at fault."
Smith said her mother had made attempts to pay her bill.
"I don’t believe she knew it was going to be shut off at all because she would have reached out to one of us," said Smith. "I think there should be some policy that if someone’s making an attempt, that you shouldn’t shut them off on an elderly woman."
“Our hearts go out to the family of the customer,” reads an APS news release. “The safety of our fellow Arizonans is our top priority. We want all our customers to stay connected, especially during the summer.”
APS said Thursday it was made aware of the 2018 death just this week.
Now, the company is taking a closer look at its policies.
"We are pausing disconnections for residential customers who are having difficulty paying their bills, and we’re going to be looking at our disconnection policies over the next 30 days," said Stacy Derstine with APS.
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"It's heartbreaking," said consumer advocate Stacey Champion. "But to think that Stephanie Pullman is the only person I think is naive."
The Maricopa County Department of Public Health recorded 182 heat-related deaths in 2018. Forty percent of those occurred indoors.
While many of those deaths stem from air conditioning systems that are broken or just not turned on, Champion says the data in incomplete. She wonders how many of those individuals had their electricity shut off.
"This is a public health crisis," said Champion.
She thinks a law needs to change for Pullman and other vulnerable populations.
"I believe we need statewide protection for utility shutoffs," she said.
Earlier this legislative session, Champion worked on a bill to do just that, but she says it never even got a hearing.
APS plans to consult with community organizations, other public agencies and advocates for low-income customers as part of its review.
APS also released a a video statement about the matter.
"We want to make sure our customers understand they have options," Derstine said.
Those alternatives include payment arrangements, extensions, bill support programs, due-date reminders and auto payment.
APS says customers can call weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. or go to APS.com for more information.
Phoenix area -- 602-371-7171
Outside Phoenix -- 800-253-9405
“Customers will still be billed for energy usage during this suspension of disconnections, and responsible for paying their bills in a timely manner,” APS said.
The largest electric utility in the state, APS serves 2.7 million customers and employs 6,400 people.
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