By: Brahm Resnik
KPNX- The shocking heat-related death of a woman from Sun City West, outside of Phoenix last year, forced Arizona Public Service to ban power shut-offs until next October. Now there is more about other deaths that may have occurred in sweltering homes over the last two decades.
Researchers looked at nearly 20 years of data and found up to 200 people have died after their power was turned off. But despite the disturbing numbers they said they don’t know enough yet to determine if those deaths can be linked to a shut-off.
Sun City West resident, Stephanie Pullman, died after she fell behind on electric bills last year and APS shut off her power in 100-degree temperatures. the county medical examiner ruled heat exposure was a contributing cause of Pullman’s death.
Kate Goodin, who oversees the Maricopa County Public Health department’s tracking of all heat-related deaths, said she believes some if those deaths can be linked to customers having their power shut off.
“I would say probably 10 to 15 percent would fall into that group of their utilities being shut off”, said Goodin.
That’s an estimated 150 to 200 heat-related deaths over the last 18 years after a customer’s electricity was shut off. Goodin cautions that more research is needed before pinpointing a direct link to a shut-off.
Heat-related deaths in Maricopa County have soared over the last 18 years, from 21 in 2001, about one death every 17 days, to 182 last year, one death every 2 days, all associated with heat exposure.
APS and state regulators responded to Stephanie Pullman’s death by banning all power shutoffs from June 20th to October 15th. But now APS executives are warning that delinquent customers could hit a financial wall in October, after falling behind on their bills for four more months.
According to APS, there are now more than 78,000 delinquent accounts, owing $13.9 million dollars on their bills, double the amount from one year ago. The average delinquent account owes $177 dollars.
In Tucson, Joe Barrios with Tucson Electric Power said in 2018 TEP shut off power to 15,398 customers, but the company, to date, has not had any complaints, lawsuits or settlements involving the death of any customer whose power was turned off.
Barrios said the best way to avoid shutoffs is to reach out to the company and explain your situation. For more information click here.