Scorching temperatures and explosive population growth are producing record demand for power in the East Valley this week.
Salt River Project and Arizona P ublic Service Co. spokesmen say generating stations are cranking out electricity with room to spare, so there’s no fear of rolling brownouts.
Power will be disrupted, however, for the poor, elderly and disabled who can’t pay their bills.
"We turn as many people away as we see. Probably more," said Pat Gilbert, executive director of the Mesa Community Action Network, which provides emergency utility assistance to people who can’t afford to pay their bills.
Both electric companies expected to break power usage records Monday and today, with APS topping 7,000 megawatts and SRP nearing 6,000 megawatts during the peak demand period between 4 and 6 p.m.
"This is oppressive heat. We’ve logged seven consecutive days of 110 degrees and above," said SRP spokesman Scott Harelson. "That drives up use, even if the temperature is the same . . . We’ll see a steady rise because people are getting more uncomfortable."
This time last year, the crippled Westwing substation strained the APS power grid and had both utilities appealing to the public to conserve energy or face possible electricity shutdowns. The West Valley transformers came back into service July 6.
"Right now we have adequate supply to meet customer demand," said APS spokesman Mark Fallon. "If the system were to be challenged . . . there is always the Tips on saving energy
• Set your thermostat to 78-80 degrees. Set it at 80 or above when you’re not home.
• Replace and clean filters regularly.
• Check weatherstripping and caulking around doors and windows.
• Close draperies and blinds on sunny side of house; use ceiling fans; cover windows with awnings or sunscreen; plant deciduous trees to shade the house.
• Run appliances during off-peak hours (nighttime, early morning and weekends).
• Set water heater thermostat at 120 degrees. Take short showers instead of baths.
• Avoid using your oven; run a full dishwasher and use air-dry setting. potential for us to call on our customers to cut back their energy usage in order to keep everyone’s lights on."
Last summer’s call for conservation has carried over with some customers, who saw that using appliances at night and turning up the thermostat a few degrees made a dent in their bill, Fallon said.
But as the demand for electricity increases, so do the calls for help. Some come from new customers sweating through their first Arizona summer.
"They get that kind of sticker shock," Harelson said.
The utilities offer advice on how to cut usage, and refer customers who can’t pay their bills to local assistance groups such as Gilbert’s, which may pay one utility bill per year based on income and family size.
"If you’re having trouble paying your bill, let us know," Harelson said. "Because the sooner we find out, the more help we can offer."
Mesa Community Action Network helped pay utility bills for about 3,100 households last year at a cost of $470,000. This week’s heat wave will have a delayed effect on the families, elderly and disabled who struggle to make ends meet.
"What we’re going to have is a huge tsunami in terms of the size of bills in about 60 days," Gilbert said, after two months of bills have come due.
Appointments are booked a week ahead, and priority is given to households with infants or people with health problems.
"We try to the best of our ability to deal with shut-off notices where there’s a
medical circumstance," Gilbert said. "Some families will have the power shut off. It’s impossible for us to estimate how many."
Utility bill help
• Mesa Community Action Network, 635 E. Broadway Road, (480) 833-9200.
• Scottsdale’s Vista del Camino, 7700 E. Roosevelt St., (480) 312-2323.
• Tempe Community Action Agency, 2150 E. Orange St., (480) 350-5880.
• Gilbert Community Action Program, (480) 892-5331
• Chandler Community Action Program, (480) 963-4321.