More than 9,300 struggling low-income individuals and families, and possibly more, in Santa Cruz and Mohave Counties will face additional financial challenges with Arizona Corporation Commission decisions to increase UniSource Energy Services electric rates by 12% and not to increase the flat, monthly discount on low-income rate plans.

The new residential service rate increase will be effective as of Feb. 1.

 “We are deeply troubled by this one-two punch that will affect thousands of people in Santa Cruz and Mohave Counties already struggling to make decisions about where and how to spend their limited incomes,” said Wildfire Executive Director Kelly McGowan. “While UniSource Energy Services’ first general rate increase in more than seven years is understandable, we can’t justify not raising the low-income rate plans to, at the very last, give low-income ratepayers even a hint of a chance to keep up.”

In December 2022, 9,303, or about 10% of all UniSource Energy Services customers, were participating in the company’s Customer Assistance Residential Energy Support (CARES) program, which provides discounts to households with incomes of up to 200% of the federal poverty level, or $5,000 for a four-person household each month.

UniSource had agreed to a $4 increase to the monthly low-income rate plan, which Wildfire supported. Wildfire also had proposed creating a tiered-discount based on income levels or a 25% overall discount to the bills, but the Commission voted 3-2 to keep the discount at its current $16 rate. 

McGowan said that based on census numbers, between 30% and 40% of UNSE customers could be eligible for the discount, which has not increased since 2016.

She pointed out that the current 12% general rate increase is in addition to a decision in May approving a 9% increase for the fuel adjuster “which means a $25 monthly increase in the last year. The CARES program has not been able to keep up and that translates into real trouble for thousands of people, particularly in a service area with high poverty rates and many seniors on fixed incomes.”

McGowan said impacted customers may have other options for utility bill assistance, based on eligibility, including Wildfire’s Energy Assistance Program (https://wildfireaz.org/find-help/energy-assistance/).

For more information about Wildfire, visit www.wildfireaz.org.