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As the temperatures continue to drop — especially in the northern part of the state — APS officials want residents to know that they’re ramping up their efforts to ensure the lights and heat stay on.

Steve Gotfried and Alan Bunnell, members of APS’ communications team, came to Sedona on Dec. 7 as part of the company’s statewide media outreach. In an interview with the Sedona Red Rock News, they talked on a variety of issues that pertain to Sedona, including the proposed rate increase intervention, winter preparedness and an ongoing APS scam.


In that scam, local businesses owners are called and told that their power will be shut off unless they make immediate payment, mostly with the use of prepaid debit cards. Statewide there have been more than 150 reported cases, which have included Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek.

“We continue to get the word out,” Gotfried said. “There was an uptick in calls right before Thanksgiving. Trending wise, we know this time of year there will probably be more. But people are being much more careful. The key here, we’d never tell them they have to pay in a certain type of payment.”

As far as the scams themselves, he said they come and go and it’s a matter of trying to keep up with them the best they can.

“We don’t hear anything for a while and then suddenly we do,” he said. “When that happens we try and do as much outreach as we can. The media has been a big help in getting the word out. Unfortunately, the sophistication of the scammers has really increased over the last several years. When you put up telephone systems that sound like APS, that’s where it gets more challenging. And we’re seeing this nationally — it’s not just in Arizona.”

Gotfried added that even if a business owner knows it’s a scam, they are still asked to contact APS and local law enforcement to let them know because they track these occurrences.

“It’s based on fear and confusion,” Bunnell said in regard to the scammer’s approach. “They tend to hit during periods when the business owner can’t afford to have the power off. People are stressed over other issues like the holidays. Sadly, it’s a perfect time to try and take advantage of the situation.”

He went on to add, “It’s going to be a constant education process to help customers stay aware of the newest techniques these criminals are using to try and scam people out of their money. It’s going to take more vigilance on the part of individuals.”

When the scam was first reported in later October, APS had 90 reported cases in just one week. But Gotfried said reports into them have slowed with 36 cases since Dec. 1 — four of which were successful.

’Tis the Season

“The summer is a busy time for us down in the valley but this season it’s big up here in Sedona, Flagstaff and Prescott,” Bunnell said. “But we’re well prepared to address issues during the winter. Prior to Thanksgiving we inspected all of our overhead lines to make sure they are ready to meet the demand needs.”
APS went through and stocked its mobile fleet and are prepared for any outages. Winter training of its snow cats is complete as are their safety meetings, which are focused on winter conditions.

“We have all of our employees on standby in the event we have a major storm and to get staff out there in the field as quickly as possible,” Bunnell said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t have any problems. It’s the nature of the business. When we mix ice and electricity there are going to be problems.”
He said its important for the public to not hesitate to contact APS in the event of an outage. They often have to rely upon customers to inform them when this happens. It can then be determined if its an actual outage or something wrong at that particular residence.

“No matter how much we invest in the system, there are always going to be power outages,” he said. “Storms, Mother Nature, cars hitting poles can all cause power to be interrupted. Our job, when these occur, is to get power back to our customers as quickly as we can.”

Intervention

Recently, the city of Sedona filed the necessary paperwork in the event City Council chooses to intervene on behalf of its residents on aspects of APS’ proposed rate increase next year. Council had previously intervened when APS was seeking to charge a one-time and monthly fee for those wishing to keep their analog meters instead of smart meters.

The three most significant current issues are:  

  • Smart meter opt-out costs.
  • Rate changes to include mandatory demand rates for all customers [currently voluntary program].
  • Modification of the net metering program to reduce subsidies.

The city could choose to weigh in on any, all or none of these issues as an intervenor, City Attorney Robert Pickels said. The previous intervention was mainly just about the smart meters, but the other issues weren’t included in that case.

“Our rate review is a transparent, public process and parties who have an interest in the outcome can ask the Arizona Corporation Commission to have their voices heard,” APS spokeswoman Anna Stewart wrote in an email. “We welcome the opportunity for outside parties like the city of Sedona to ask questions, voice concerns and seek more information from us.”

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