Salt River Project (SRP), beginning on March 16, halted disconnections and stopped imposing late payment fees for all customers during the unprecedented circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the not-for-profit utility announced it will extend its moratorium on disconnects until October 1. As October nears, the SRP is developing flexible payment plans and finding financial assistance for customers.
The SRP works with customers on an individual basis to develop payment plans and identify available discounts and support. The utility also connects customers to partners such as local municipalities, community action agencies, and local and faith-based organizations that provide financial assistance to eligible limited-income households and business owners.
If customers with past-due electric bills have not called to set up a personalized payment arrangement by Oct. 1, the SRP will place them on an eight-month payment plan to spread out repayment of their total balance. Customers can call the company to start or change their payment plan and discuss available financial assistance using the 24-hour SRP customer service line, (602) 236-8888.
"Further extending our COVID-19 disconnect moratorium was an important decision the SRP made in order to help customers develop repayment and bill-assistance solutions that work for their unique situations, and our hope is they will call us sooner rather than later," said Jim Pratt, associate general manager and chief customer executive at the SRP. "It is our goal to work with each customer who is having trouble paying their bill so we can help get them access to financial support and ensure they don't accrue more debt."
Although disconnections will not start until Oct. 1, late payment fees will resume on Aug. 1 except for those customers on the SRP's Economy Price Plan (EPP). By calling soon and setting up a payment plan, customers can start gradually paying past-due balances and avoid incurring late payment fees altogether. The utility wants to help customers manage their bill far in advance of October, giving them time to develop payment plans they are comfortable with, receive referrals to community agencies with available COVID-19 relief funds, and gain easy access to SRP customer service representatives.
Customers who call the SRP can also discuss if they are eligible for its EPP monthly discount which is available to limited-income households. Those eligible can immediately enroll during the call. While late payment fees will resume on Aug. 1, existing EPP customers, as well as those who may now qualify and enroll, will continue to have late payment fees waived until Oct. 1.
"The SRP remains sensitive to its customers who are navigating financial challenges from COVID-19's significant, widespread impact on Arizona households and companies," Pratt said. "As a public power company, our longstanding approach reinvests revenue into lowering customer prices and the SRP has some of the lowest electricity prices in the Southwest. However, this makes it unsustainable for the SRP to continue under current disconnect moratorium policies for an extended period. It could ultimately raise our customers' prices or impact our ability to reliably serve power."
To date, SRP customer past-due balances total about US$31.8 million, an amount that is about triple the average debt accrued this time of year. Beginning on Oct. 1, all customers except those on the M-Power Price Plan, with a past-due balance of more than US$80, will automatically be placed on an eight-month payment plan if they have not already selected a different arrangement. For M-Power customers, accumulated debt will be placed in a paydown account, similar to a payment plan, and a percentage of every future purchase will be applied to this account so they can pay off the debt over time.
The SRP's Here to Help website provides information on a variety of assistance available to customers, including details on low-cost price plans and discounts available to customers on a limited income. The utility is also continuing to allow customers to switch price plans at any time with no waiting period. For customers on Time-of-Use plans, SRP tips on how to save money help customers get the best value by sharing ways to limit energy use at home while energy costs are higher.
Beyond these resources, the SRP has donated more than US$1.35 million to assist residential customers, small businesses, nonprofits, and health care organizations financially struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than US$500,000 dedicated to customer bill assistance. The company also set up an employee fund so SRP employees could donate directly from their paychecks to customers in need. Approximately 500 employees have contributed more than US$52,000 to support customers in paying utility bills.