A 3-2 majority of the Arizona Corporation Commission last week approved the sale of Johnson Utilities, shortly before two new members are seated on the ACC at the beginning of the year. The decision was somewhat controversial, but it brings a tough problem to closure. And the decision was appropriate because the current commission spent so much time dealing with the issue, learning about it and finding the solution.
The Canadian-based EPCOR was chosen by the ACC to be interim manager of the utility in 2018 after years of sewer overflows and other problems. The system serves about 30,000 water customers and 40,000 wastewater customers in the San Tan Valley, Queen Creek and Florence areas. After much sparring before the ACC and in court, the two parties worked out a sale agreement. The price has not been disclosed, but it will be when the sale order is final, as demanded by Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson, who recently was elected to a seat after an earlier appointment. She and Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, who also will be continuing on the ACC, were the no votes.
The most controversial part of the arrangement is that customers will be required to pay for, beginning in 2023, what was termed a “deferred debit.” That is part of the cost of bringing the system up to standards. The extra charge is likely to be $9 to $12 a month, but it will decrease with added customers. The deal was negotiated by EPCOR, the ACC staff and the Residential Utility Consumer Office, which acts on behalf of residential customers. Because of the parties involved, it seems likely that the agreement was the best that could be found.
One customer in San Tan Valley, who objected in a letter to the ACC about having to pay the fee, nevertheless summed up the situation by saying EPCOR was buying a “system that is junk.” Therein lies the problem that the ACC faced. Perhaps it could have been dealt with sooner, but the ACC has dealt with it now, and the customers are likely finally to have a utility they can live with.