Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, APS has voluntarily suspended disconnections of customers for nonpayment beginning March 13, 2020. In addition, APS has waived all late payment fees during this current moratorium. APS currently estimates that the Summer Disconnection Moratorium (see below for discussion of the Summer Disconnection Moratorium), the suspension of disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased bad debt expense associated with both events will result in a negative impact to its 2020 operating results of approximately $20 to $30 million pre-tax above the impact of disconnections on its operating results for years that did not have the Summer Disconnection Moratorium or COVID-19 pandemic.
APS is anticipating an increase in bad debt expense associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it still believes that costs associated with the Summer Disconnection Moratorium and the COVID-19 disconnection suspensions and related bad debt expense with both events will fall within this estimated $20 to $30 million range. These estimated impact amounts depend on certain assumptions, including customer behaviors and the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy not extending into 2021. APS also established a customer support fund of $1.5 million to assist customers with a one-time credit of up to $100 on their bill with a priority given to customers on limited-income service plans. Additionally, due to COVID-19, APS delayed the reset of the Environmental Improvement Surcharge ("EIS") adjustor and suspended the discontinuation of TEAM Phase II to the first billing cycle in May 2020 rather than April 2020 (see below for discussion of EIS and TEAM Phase II).
On April 17, 2020, APS filed an application with the ACC requesting a COVID-19 emergency relief package to provide additional assistance to its customers. On May 5, 2020, the ACC approved APS returning $36 million that has been collected through the Demand Side Management ("DSM") Adjustor Clause, but not allocated for current DSM programs, directly to customers through a bill credit in June 2020 (see below for discussion of the DSM Adjustor Clause). Also, on May 5, 2020, APS also voluntarily committed to the ACC to contribute $5.3 million of non-ratepayer funds to provide assistance to residential and business customers that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2019 Retail Rate Case Filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission
On October 31, 2019, APS filed an application with the ACC for an annual increase in retail base rates of $69 million. This amount includes recovery of the deferral and rate base effects of the Four Corners selective catalytic reduction ("SCR") project that is currently the subject of a separate proceeding (see “SCR Cost Recovery” below). It also reflects a net credit to base rates of approximately $115 million primarily due to the prospective inclusion of rate refunds currently provided through the Tax Expense Adjustment Mechanism ("TEAM"). The proposed total revenue increase in APS's application is $184 million. The average annual customer bill impact of APS’s request is an increase of 5.6% (the average annual bill impact for a typical APS residential customer is 5.4%).
The principal provisions of APS's application are:
a test year comprised of twelve months ended June 30, 2019, adjusted as described below;
an original cost rate base of $8.87 billion, which approximates the ACC-jurisdictional portion of the book value of utility assets, net of accumulated depreciation and other credits;
the following proposed capital structure and costs of capital:
Cost of Capital
Common stock equity
Weighted-average cost of capital
a 1% return on the increment of fair value rate base above APS’s original cost rate base, as provided for by Arizona law;
authorization to defer until APS's next general rate case the increase or decrease in its Arizona property taxes attributable to tax rate changes after the date the rate application is adjudicated;
a number of proposed rate and program changes for residential customers, including:
a super off-peak period during the winter months for APS’s time-of-use with demand rates;
additional $1.25 million in funding for APS's limited-income crisis bill program; and
a flat bill/subscription rate pilot program;
proposed rate design changes for commercial customers, including an experimental program designed to provide access to market pricing for up to 200 MW of medium and large commercial customers;
recovery of the deferral and rate base effects of the construction and operating costs of the Ocotillo modernization project (see discussion below of the 2017 Settlement Agreement); and
continued recovery of the remaining investment and other costs related to the retirement and closure of the Navajo Generating Station (the "Navajo Plant") (see "Navajo Plant" below).
APS requested that the increase become effective December 1, 2020. The hearing for this rate case was delayed by 75 days, at the request of ACC Staff, and is currently scheduled to begin September 30, 2020. APS cannot predict the outcome of its request.
2016 Retail Rate Case Filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission
On June 1, 2016, APS filed an application with the ACC for an annual increase in retail base rates. On March 27, 2017, a majority of the stakeholders in the general retail rate case, including the ACC Staff, the Residential Utility Consumer Office, limited income advocates and private rooftop solar organizations signed a settlement agreement (the "2017 Settlement Agreement") and filed it with the ACC. The 2017 Settlement Agreement provides for a net retail base rate increase of $94.6 million, excluding the transfer of adjustor balances, consisting of: (1) a non-fuel, non-depreciation, base rate increase of $87.2 million per year; (2) a base rate decrease of $53.6 million attributable to reduced fuel and purchased power costs; and (3) a base rate increase of $61.0 million due to changes in depreciation schedules. The average annual customer bill impact under the 2017 Settlement Agreement was calculated as an increase of 3.28% (the average annual bill impact for a typical APS residential customer was calculated as an increase of 4.54%).
Other key provisions of the agreement include the following:
an agreement by APS not to file another general retail rate case application before June 1, 2019;
an authorized return on common equity of 10.0%;
a capital structure comprised of 44.2% debt and 55.8% common equity;
a cost deferral order for potential future recovery in APS’s next general retail rate case for the construction and operating costs APS incurs for its Ocotillo modernization project;
a cost deferral and procedure to allow APS to request rate adjustments prior to its next general retail rate case related to its share of the construction costs associated with installing SCR equipment at the Four Corners Power Plant ("Four Corners");
a deferral for future recovery (or credit to customers) of the Arizona property tax expense above or below a specified test year level caused by changes to the applicable Arizona property tax rate;
an expansion of the Power Supply Adjustor (“PSA”) to include certain environmental chemical costs and third-party energy storage costs;
a new AZ Sun II program (now known as "APS Solar Communities") for utility-owned solar distributed generation with the purpose of expanding access to rooftop solar for low and moderate income Arizonans, recoverable through the Arizona Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff ("RES"), to be no less than $10 million per year in capital costs, and not more than $15 million per year in capital costs;
an increase to the per kWh cap for the environmental improvement surcharge from $0.00016 to $0.00050 and the addition of a balancing account;
rate design changes, including:
a change in the on-peak time of use period from noon - 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. - 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays;
non-grandfathered distributed generation ("DG") customers would be required to select a rate option that has time of use rates and either a new grid access charge or demand component;
a Resource Comparison Proxy (“RCP”) for exported energy of 12.9 cents per kWh in year one; and
an agreement by APS not to pursue any new self-build generation (with certain exceptions) having an in-service date prior to January 1, 2022 (extended to December 31, 2027 for combined-cycle generating units), unless expressly authorized by the ACC.
Through a separate agreement, APS, industry representatives, and solar advocates committed to stand by the 2017 Settlement Agreement and refrain from seeking to undermine it through ballot initiatives, legislation or advocacy at the ACC.
On August 15, 2017, the ACC approved (by a vote of 4-1), the 2017 Settlement Agreement without material modifications. On August 18, 2017, the ACC issued a final written Opinion and Order reflecting its decision in APS’s general retail rate case (the "2017 Rate Case Decision"), which is subject to requests for rehearing and potential appeal. The new rates went into effect on August 19, 2017.
On January 3, 2018, an APS customer filed a petition with the ACC that was determined by the ACC Staff to be a complaint filed pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute §40-246 (the “Complaint”). The Complaint was later amended alleging that the rates and charges in the 2017 Rate Case Decision are not just and reasonable. The ACC held a hearing on this matter and the hearing was concluded on October 1, 2018. On April 9, 2019, the Administrative Law Judge issued a Recommended Opinion and Order recommending that the Complaint be dismissed. On July 3, 2019, the Administrative Law Judge issued an amendment to the Recommended Opinion and Order that incorporated the requirements of the rate review of the 2017 Rate Case Decision (see below discussion regarding the rate review). On July 10, 2019, the ACC adopted the Administrative Law Judge's amended Recommended Opinion and Order along with several ACC Commissioner amendments and an amendment incorporating the results of the rate review and resolved the Complaint.
On December 24, 2018, certain ACC Commissioners filed a letter stating that because the ACC had received a substantial number of complaints that the rate increase authorized by the 2017 Rate Case Decision was much more than anticipated, they believe there is a possibility that APS is earning more than was authorized by the 2017 Rate Case Decision. Accordingly, the ACC Commissioners requested the ACC Staff to perform a rate review of APS using calendar year 2018 as a test year. The ACC Commissioners also asked the ACC Staff to evaluate APS’s efforts to educate its customers regarding the new rates approved in the 2017 Rate Case Decision.
On June 4, 2019, the ACC Staff filed a proposed order regarding the rate review of the 2017 Rate Case Decision. On June 11, 2019, the ACC Commissioners approved the proposed ACC Staff order with amendments. The key provisions of the amended order include the following:
APS must file a rate case no later than October 31, 2019, using a June 30, 2019 test-year;
until the conclusion of the rate case being filed no later than October 31, 2019, APS must provide information on customer bills that shows how much a customer would pay on their most economical rate given their actual usage during each month;
APS customers can switch rate plans during an open enrollment period of six months;
APS must identify customers whose bills have increased by more than 9% and that are not on the most economical rate and provide such customers with targeted education materials and an opportunity to switch rate plans;
APS must provide grandfathered net metering customers on legacy demand rates an opportunity to switch to another legacy rate to enable such customers to fully benefit from legacy net metering rates;
APS must fund and implement a supplemental customer education and outreach program to be developed with and administered by ACC Staff and a third-party consultant; and
APS must fund and organize, along with the third-party consultant, a stakeholder group to suggest better ways to communicate the impact of changes to adjustor cost recovery mechanisms (see below for discussion on cost recovery mechanisms), including more effective ways to educate customers on rate plans and to reduce energy usage.
APS cannot predict the outcome or impact of the rate case filed on October 31, 2019. APS does not believe that the implementation of the other key provisions of the amended order regarding the rate review will have a material impact on its financial position, results of operations or cash flows.
Cost Recovery Mechanisms
APS has received regulatory decisions that allow for more timely recovery of certain costs outside of a general retail rate case through the following recovery mechanisms.
Renewable Energy Standard. In 2006, the ACC approved the RES. Under the RES, electric utilities that are regulated by the ACC must supply an increasing percentage of their retail electric energy sales from eligible renewable resources, including solar, wind, biomass, biogas and geothermal technologies. In order to achieve these requirements, the ACC allows APS to include a RES surcharge as part of customer bills to recover the approved amounts for use on renewable energy projects. Each year APS is required to file a five-year implementation plan with the ACC and seek approval for funding the upcoming year’s RES budget. In 2015, the ACC revised the RES rules to allow the ACC to consider all available information, including the number of rooftop solar arrays in a utility’s service territory, to determine compliance with the RES.
On November 20, 2017, APS filed an updated 2018 RES budget to include budget adjustments for APS Solar Communities (formerly known as AZ Sun II), which was approved as part of the 2017 Rate Case Decision. APS Solar Communities is a 3-year program authorizing APS to spend $10 million to $15 million in capital costs each year to install utility-owned DG systems for low to moderate income residential homes, non-profit entities, Title I schools and rural government facilities. The 2017 Rate Case Decision provided that all operations and maintenance expenses, property taxes, marketing and advertising expenses, and the capital carrying costs for this program will be recovered through the RES.
On June 29, 2018, APS filed its 2019 RES Implementation Plan and proposed a budget of approximately $89.9 million. APS’s budget request supports existing approved projects and commitments and requests a permanent waiver of the residential distributed energy requirement for 2019 contained in the RES rules. On October 29, 2019, the ACC approved the 2019 RES Implementation Plan including a waiver of the residential distributed energy requirements for the 2019 implementation year.
On July 1, 2019, APS filed its 2020 RES Implementation Plan and proposed a budget of approximately $86.3 million. APS’s budget request supports existing approved projects and commitments and requests a permanent waiver of the residential distributed energy requirement for 2020 contained in the RES rules. The ACC has not yet ruled on the 2020 RES Implementation Plan.
On July 2, 2019, ACC Staff issued draft rules, which propose a RES goal of 45% of retail energy served be renewables by 2035 and a goal of 20% of retail sales during peak demand to be from clean energy resources by 2035. The draft rules would also require a certain amount of the RES goal to be derived from distributed renewable storage, for which utilities would be required to offer performance-based incentives. Nuclear energy would be considered a clean resource under the draft rules. On February 18, 2020, ACC Staff issued revised draft rules which would change the RES and clean energy goals to standards and would provide additional reporting and compliance requirements. Certain ACC Commissioners have proposed different options with different implementation dates of these rules. APS cannot predict the outcome of this matter. See "Energy Modernization Plan" below for more information.
Demand Side Management Adjustor Charge. The ACC Electric Energy Efficiency Standards require APS to submit a Demand Side Management Implementation Plan ("DSM Plan") annually for review by and approval of the ACC. Verified energy savings from APS's resource savings projects can be counted toward compliance with the Electric Energy Efficiency Standards; however, APS is not allowed to count savings from systems savings projects toward determination of the achievement of performance incentives, nor may APS include savings from these system savings projects in the calculation of its Lost Fixed Cost Recovery (“LFCR”) mechanism (see below for discussion of the LFCR).
On September 1, 2017, APS filed its 2018 DSM Plan, which proposes modifications to the demand side management portfolio to better meet system and customer needs by focusing on peak demand reductions, storage, load shifting and demand response programs in addition to traditional energy savings measures. The 2018 DSM Plan seeks a requested budget of $52.6 million and requests a waiver of the Electric Energy Efficiency Standard for 2018. On November 14, 2017, APS filed an amended 2018 DSM Plan, which revised the allocations between budget items to address customer participation levels, but kept the overall budget at $52.6 million. The ACC has not yet ruled on the APS 2018 amended DSM Plan.
On December 31, 2018, APS filed its 2019 DSM Plan, which requests a budget of $34.1 million and continues APS's focus on DSM strategies such as peak demand reduction, load shifting, storage and electrification strategies. The ACC has not yet ruled on the APS 2019 DSM Plan.
On December 31, 2019, APS filed its 2020 DSM Plan, which requests a budget of $51.9 million and continues APS's focus on DSM strategies such as peak demand reduction, load shifting, storage and electrification strategies. The 2020 DSM Plan addresses all components of the 2018 and 2019 DSM plans, which enables the ACC to review the 2020 DSM Plan only. The ACC has not yet ruled on the APS 2020 DSM Plan.
On April 17, 2020, APS filed an application with the ACC requesting a COVID-19 emergency relief package to provide additional assistance to its customers. On May 5, 2020, the ACC approved APS returning $36 million that has been collected through the DSM Adjustor Clause, but not allocated for current DSM programs, directly to customers through a bill credit in June 2020. See "COVID-19 Pandemic" above for more information.
Power Supply Adjustor Mechanism and Balance. The PSA provides for the adjustment of retail rates to reflect variations primarily in retail fuel and purchased power costs. The following table shows the changes in the deferred fuel and purchased power regulatory asset for 2020 and 2019 (dollars in thousands):
Three Months Ended
Deferred fuel and purchased power costs — current period
Amounts charged to customers
The PSA rate for the PSA year beginning February 1, 2018 is $0.004555 per kWh, consisting of a forward component of $0.002009 per kWh and a historical component of $0.002546 per kWh. This represented a $0.004 per kWh increase over the August 19, 2017 PSA, the maximum permitted under the Plan of Administration for the PSA. This left $16.4 million of 2017 fuel and purchased power costs above this annual cap. These costs rolled over into the following year and were reflected in the 2019 reset of the PSA.
The PSA rate for the PSA year beginning February 1, 2019 was $0.001658 per kWh, consisting of a Forward Component of $0.000536 per kWh and a Historical Component of $0.001122 per kWh. This represented a $0.002897 per kWh decrease compared to 2018. These rates went into effect as filed on February 1, 2019.
On November 27, 2019, APS filed its PSA rate for the PSA year beginning February 1, 2020. That rate was $(0.000456) per kWh and consisted of a Forward Component of $(0.002086) per kWh and a Historical Component of $0.001630 per kWh. The 2020 PSA rate is a $0.002115 per kWh decrease compared to the 2019 PSA year. These rates went into effect as filed on February 1, 2020.
On March 15, 2019, APS filed an application with the ACC requesting approval to recover the costs related to two energy storage power purchase tolling agreements through the PSA. This application is pending with the ACC. APS cannot predict the outcome of this matter.
Environmental Improvement Surcharge. The EIS permits APS to recover the capital carrying costs (rate of return, depreciation and taxes) plus incremental operations and maintenance expenses associated with environmental improvements made outside of a test year to comply with environmental standards set by federal, state, tribal, or local laws and regulations. A filing is made on or before February 1st for qualified environmental improvements made during the prior calendar year, and the new charge becomes effective April 1 unless suspended by the ACC. There is an overall cap of $0.0005 per kWh (approximately $13 - 14 million per year). APS’s February 1, 2020 application requested an increase in the charge to $8.75 million, or $2.0 million over the charge in effect for the 2019-2020 rate effective year. On March 19, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, APS delayed the reset of the EIS adjustor to the first billing cycle in May 2020 rather than April 2020.
Transmission Rates, Transmission Cost Adjustor ("TCA") and Other Transmission Matters. In July 2008, FERC approved a modification to APS’s Open Access Transmission Tariff to allow APS to move from fixed rates to a formula rate-setting methodology in order to more accurately reflect and recover the costs that APS incurs in providing transmission services. A large portion of the rate represents charges for
transmission services to serve APS's retail customers ("Retail Transmission Charges"). In order to recover the Retail Transmission Charges, APS was previously required to file an application with, and obtain approval from, the ACC to reflect changes in Retail Transmission Charges through the TCA. Under the terms of the settlement agreement entered into in 2012 regarding APS's rate case ("2012 Settlement Agreement"), however, an adjustment to rates to recover the Retail Transmission Charges will be made annually each June 1 and will go into effect automatically unless suspended by the ACC.
The formula rate is updated each year effective June 1 on the basis of APS's actual cost of service, as disclosed in APS's FERC Form 1 report for the previous fiscal year. Items to be updated include actual capital expenditures made as compared with previous projections, transmission revenue credits and other items. The resolution of proposed adjustments can result in significant volatility in the revenues to be collected. APS reviews the proposed formula rate filing amounts with the ACC Staff. Any items or adjustments which are not agreed to by APS and the ACC Staff can remain in dispute until settled or litigated at FERC. Settlement or litigated resolution of disputed issues could require an extended period of time and could have a significant effect on the Retail Transmission Charges because any adjustment, though applied prospectively, may be calculated to account for previously over- or under-collected amounts.
On March 7, 2018, APS made a filing to make modifications to its annual transmission formula to provide transmission customers the benefit of the reduced federal corporate income tax rate resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ("Tax Act") beginning in its 2018 annual transmission formula rate update filing. These modifications were approved by FERC on May 22, 2018 and reduced APS’s transmission rates compared to the rate that would have gone into effect absent these changes. On March 17, 2020, APS made a filing to make further modifications to its annual transmission formula to provide additional transparency for excess and deficient Accumulated Deferred Income Taxes resulting from the Tax Act, as well as for future local, state, and federal statutory tax rate changes. This filing is pending with FERC.
Effective June 1, 2018, APS's annual wholesale transmission rates for all users of its transmission system decreased by approximately $22.7 million for the twelve-month period beginning June 1, 2018 in accordance with the FERC-approved formula. An adjustment to APS’s retail rates to recover FERC approved transmission charges went into effect automatically on June 1, 2018.
Effective June 1, 2019, APS's annual wholesale transmission rates for all users of its transmission system increased by approximately $4.9 million for the twelve-month period beginning June 1, 2019 in accordance with the FERC-approved formula. An adjustment to APS’s retail rates to recover FERC approved transmission charges went into effect automatically on June 1, 2019.
Lost Fixed Cost Recovery Mechanism. The LFCR mechanism permits APS to recover on an after-the-fact basis a portion of its fixed costs that would otherwise have been collected by APS in the kWh sales lost due to APS energy efficiency programs and to DG such as rooftop solar arrays. The fixed costs recoverable by the LFCR mechanism were first established in the 2012 Settlement Agreement and amount to approximately 3.1 cents per residential kWh lost and 2.3 cents per non-residential kWh lost. These amounts were revised in the 2017 Settlement Agreement to 2.5 cents for both lost residential and non-residential kWh. The LFCR adjustment has a year-over-year cap of 1% of retail revenues. Any amounts left unrecovered in a particular year because of this cap can be carried over for recovery in a future year. The kWhs lost from energy efficiency are based on a third-party evaluation of APS’s energy efficiency programs. DG sales losses are determined from the metered output from the DG units.
On February 15, 2018, APS filed its 2018 annual LFCR adjustment, requesting that effective May 1, 2018, the LFCR be adjusted to $60.7 million. On February 6, 2019, the ACC approved the 2018 annual LFCR
adjustment to become effective March 1, 2019. On February 15, 2019, APS filed its 2019 annual LFCR adjustment, requesting that effective May 1, 2019, the annual LFCR recovery amount be reduced to $36.2 million (a $24.5 million decrease from previous levels). On July 10, 2019, the ACC approved APS’s 2019 LFCR adjustment as filed, effective with the next billing cycle of July 2019. On February 14, 2020, APS filed its 2020 annual LFCR adjustment, requesting that effective May 1, 2020, the annual LFCR recovery amount be reduced to $26.6 million (a $9.6 million decrease from previous levels). On April 14, 2020, the ACC approved the 2020 LFCR adjustment as filed, effective with the first billing cycle in May 2020.
Tax Expense Adjustor Mechanism. As part of the 2017 Settlement Agreement, the parties agreed to a rate adjustment mechanism to address potential federal income tax reform and enable the pass-through of certain income tax effects to customers. The TEAM expressly applies to APS's retail rates with the exception of a small subset of customers taking service under specially-approved tariffs. On December 22, 2017, the Tax Act was enacted. This legislation made significant changes to the federal income tax laws including a reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% effective January 1, 2018.
On January 8, 2018, APS filed an application with the ACC that addressed the change in the marginal federal tax rate from 35% to 21% resulting from the Tax Act and reduced rates by $119.1 million annually through an equal cents per kWh credit ("TEAM Phase I"). On February 22, 2018, the ACC approved the reduction of rates through an equal cents per kWh credit. The rate reduction was effective for the first billing cycle in March 2018.
The impact of the TEAM Phase I, over time, is expected to be earnings neutral. However, on a quarterly basis, there is a difference between the timing and amount of the income tax benefit and the reduction in revenues refunded through the TEAM Phase I related to the lower federal income tax rate. The amount of the benefit of the lower federal income tax rate is based on quarterly pre-tax results, while the reduction in revenues refunded through the TEAM Phase I is based on a per kWh sales credit which follows our seasonal kWh sales pattern and is not impacted by earnings of the Company.
On August 13, 2018, APS filed a second request with the ACC that addressed the return of an additional $86.5 million in tax savings to customers related to the amortization of non-depreciation related excess deferred taxes previously collected from customers ("TEAM Phase II"). The ACC approved this request on March 13, 2019, effective the first billing cycle in April 2019 through the last billing cycle in March 2020. On March 19, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, APS delayed the discontinuation of TEAM Phase II until the first billing cycle in May 2020. Amounts credited to customers after the last billing cycle in March 2020 will be recorded as a part of the balancing account and will be addressed for recovery as part of APS's 2019 ACC rate case. Both the timing of the reduction in revenues refunded through TEAM Phase II and the offsetting income tax benefit are recognized based upon our seasonal kWh sales pattern.
On April 10, 2019, APS filed a third request with the ACC that addressed the amortization of depreciation related excess deferred taxes over a 28.5 year period consistent with IRS normalization rules (“TEAM Phase III”). On October 29, 2019, the ACC approved TEAM Phase III providing both (i) a one-time bill credit of $64 million which was credited to customers on their December 2019 bills, and (ii) a monthly bill credit effective the first billing cycle in December 2019 which will provide an additional benefit of $39.5 million to customers through December 31, 2020. It is currently anticipated that benefits related to the amortization of depreciation related excess deferred taxes for periods beginning after December 31, 2020 will be fully incorporated into the 2019 rate case.
In 2015, the ACC voted to conduct a generic evidentiary hearing on the value and cost of DG to gather information that will inform the ACC on net metering issues and cost of service studies in upcoming utility rate cases. A hearing was held in April 2016. On October 7, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge issued a recommendation in the docket concerning the value and cost of DG solar installations. On December 20, 2016, the ACC completed its open meeting to consider the recommended opinion and order by the Administrative Law Judge. After making several amendments, the ACC approved the recommended decision by a 4-1 vote. As a result of the ACC’s action, effective with APS’s 2017 Rate Case Decision, the net metering tariff that governs payments for energy exported to the grid from residential rooftop solar systems was replaced by a more formula-driven approach that utilizes inputs from historical wholesale solar power until an avoided cost methodology is developed by the ACC.
As amended, the decision provides that payments by utilities for energy exported to the grid from DG solar facilities will be determined using a RCP methodology, a method that is based on the most recent five-year rolling average price that APS pays for utility-scale solar projects, while a forecasted avoided cost methodology is being developed. The price established by this RCP method will be updated annually (between general retail rate cases) but will not be decreased by more than 10% per year. Once the avoided cost methodology is developed, the ACC will determine in APS's subsequent rate cases which method (or a combination of methods) is appropriate to determine the actual price to be paid by APS for exported distributed energy.
In addition, the ACC made the following determinations:
Customers who have interconnected a DG system or submitted an application for interconnection for DG systems prior to September 1, 2017, based on APS's 2017 Rate Case Decision, will be grandfathered for a period of 20 years from the date the customer’s interconnection application was accepted by the utility;
Customers with DG solar systems are to be considered a separate class of customers for ratemaking purposes; and
Once an export price is set for APS, no netting or banking of retail credits will be available for new DG customers, and the then-applicable export price will be guaranteed for new customers for a period of 10 years.
This decision of the ACC addresses policy determinations only. The decision states that its principles will be applied in future general retail rate cases, and the policy determinations themselves may be subject to future change, as are all ACC policies. A first-year export energy price of 12.9 cents per kWh was included in the 2017 Settlement Agreement and became effective on September 1, 2017.
In accordance with the 2017 Rate Case Decision, APS filed its request for a second-year export energy price of 11.6 cents per kWh on May 1, 2018. This price reflected the 10% annual reduction discussed above. The new rate rider became effective on October 1, 2018. APS filed its request for a third-year export energy price of 10.5 cents per kWh on May 1, 2019. This price also reflects the 10% annual reduction discussed above. The new rate rider became effective on October 1, 2019.
On January 23, 2017, The Alliance for Solar Choice ("TASC") sought rehearing of the ACC's decision regarding the value and cost of DG. TASC asserted that the ACC improperly ignored the Administrative Procedure Act, failed to give adequate notice regarding the scope of the proceedings, and relied on information that was not submitted as evidence, among other alleged defects. TASC filed a Notice of Appeal in the Arizona
Court of Appeals and filed a Complaint and Statutory Appeal in the Maricopa County Superior Court on March 10, 2017. As part of the 2017 Settlement Agreement described above, TASC agreed to withdraw these appeals when the ACC decision implementing the 2017 Settlement Agreement is no longer subject to appellate review.
See "2016 Retail Rate Case Filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission" above for information regarding an ACC order in connection with the rate review of the 2017 Rate Case Decision requiring APS to provide grandfathered net metering customers on legacy demand rates with an opportunity to switch to another legacy rate to enable such customers to benefit from legacy net metering rates.
Subpoena from Arizona Corporation Commissioner Robert Burns
On August 25, 2016, Commissioner Burns, individually and not by action of the ACC as a whole, served subpoenas in APS’s then current retail rate proceeding on APS and Pinnacle West for the production of records and information relating to a range of expenditures from 2011 through 2016. The subpoenas requested information concerning marketing and advertising expenditures, charitable donations, lobbying expenses, contributions to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofits and political contributions. The return date for the production of information was set as September 15, 2016. The subpoenas also sought testimony from Company personnel having knowledge of the material, including the Chief Executive Officer.
On September 9, 2016, APS filed with the ACC a motion to quash the subpoenas or, alternatively, to stay APS's obligations to comply with the subpoenas and decline to decide APS's motion pending court proceedings. Contemporaneously with the filing of this motion, APS and Pinnacle West filed a complaint for special action and declaratory judgment in the Superior Court of Arizona for Maricopa County, seeking a declaratory judgment that Commissioner Burns’ subpoenas are contrary to law. On September 15, 2016, APS produced all non-confidential and responsive documents and offered to produce any remaining responsive documents that are confidential after an appropriate confidentiality agreement is signed.
On February 7, 2017, Commissioner Burns opened a new ACC docket and indicated that its purpose is to study and rectify problems with transparency and disclosure regarding financial contributions from regulated monopolies or other stakeholders who may appear before the ACC that may directly or indirectly benefit an ACC Commissioner, a candidate for ACC Commissioner, or key ACC Staff. As part of this docket, Commissioner Burns set March 24, 2017 as a deadline for the production of all information previously requested through the subpoenas. Neither APS nor Pinnacle West produced the information requested and instead objected to the subpoena. On March 10, 2017, Commissioner Burns filed suit against APS and Pinnacle West in the Superior Court of Arizona for Maricopa County in an effort to enforce his subpoenas. On March 30, 2017, APS filed a motion to dismiss Commissioner Burns' suit against APS and Pinnacle West. In response to the motion to dismiss, the court stayed the suit and ordered Commissioner Burns to file a motion to compel the production of the information sought by the subpoenas with the ACC. On June 20, 2017, the ACC denied the motion to compel.
On August 4, 2017, Commissioner Burns amended his complaint to add all of the ACC Commissioners and the ACC itself as defendants. All defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint. On February 15, 2018, the Superior Court dismissed Commissioner Burns’ amended complaint. On March 6, 2018, Commissioner Burns filed an objection to the proposed final order from the Superior Court and a motion to further amend his complaint. The Superior Court permitted Commissioner Burns to amend his complaint to add a claim regarding his attempted investigation into whether his fellow commissioners should have been disqualified from voting on APS’s 2017 rate case. Commissioner Burns filed his second amended complaint, and all defendants filed responses opposing the second amended complaint and requested that it be dismissed.
Oral argument occurred in November 2018 regarding the motion to dismiss. On December 18, 2018, the trial court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss and entered final judgment on January 18, 2019. On February 13, 2019, Commissioner Burns filed a notice of appeal. On July 12, 2019, Commissioner Burns filed his opening brief in the Arizona Court of Appeals. APS filed its answering brief on October 21, 2019. The Arizona Court of Appeals originally granted the request for oral argument; however, on March 31, 2020, the court vacated the date scheduled for oral argument given the COVID-19 pandemic. The court determined that the matter could be submitted without oral argument and has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision without oral argument. APS and Pinnacle West cannot predict the outcome of this matter.
Information Requests from Arizona Corporation Commissioners
On January 14, 2019, ACC Commissioner Kennedy opened a docket to investigate campaign expenditures and political participation of APS and Pinnacle West. In addition, on February 27, 2019, ACC Commissioners Burns and Dunn opened a new docket and requested documents from APS and Pinnacle West related to ACC elections and charitable contributions related to the ACC. On March 1, 2019, ACC Commissioner Kennedy issued a subpoena to APS seeking several categories of information for both Pinnacle West and APS including political contributions, lobbying expenditures, marketing and advertising expenditures, and contributions made to 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) entities, for the years 2013-2018. Pinnacle West and APS voluntarily responded to both sets of requests on March 29, 2019. APS also received and responded to various follow-on requests from ACC Commissioners on these matters. Pinnacle West and APS cannot predict the outcome of these matters. The Company's CEO, Mr. Guldner, appeared at the ACC's January 14, 2020 Open Meeting regarding ACC Commissioners' questions about political spending. Mr. Guldner committed to the ACC that during his tenure, Pinnacle West and APS, and any of their affiliated companies, will not participate in ACC campaign elections through financial contributions or in-kind contributions.
Energy Modernization Plan
On January 30, 2018, former ACC Commissioner Tobin proposed the Energy Modernization Plan, which consisted of a series of energy policies tied to clean energy sources such as energy storage, biomass, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and expanded energy planning through the integrated resource plan ("IRP") process. In August 2018, the ACC directed ACC Staff to open a new rulemaking docket which will address a wide range of energy issues, including the Energy Modernization Plan proposals. The rulemaking will consider possible modifications to existing ACC rules, such as the RES, Electric and Gas Energy Efficiency Standards, Net Metering, Resource Planning, and the Biennial Transmission Assessment, as well as the development of new rules regarding forest bioenergy, electric vehicles, interconnection of distributed generation, baseload security, blockchain technology and other technological developments, retail competition, and other energy-related topics. On April 25, 2019, the ACC Staff issued a set of draft rules in regards to the Energy Modernization Plan and workshops were held on April 29, 2019 regarding these draft rules. On July 2, 2019, the ACC Staff issued a revised set of draft rules, which propose a RES goal of 45% of retail energy served be renewable by 2035 and a goal of 20% of retail sales during peak demand to be from clean energy resources by 2035. The draft rules also require a certain amount of the RES goal to be derived from distributed renewable storage, for which utilities would be required to offer performance-based incentives. Nuclear energy would be considered a clean resource under the draft rules. The ACC held various stakeholder meetings and workshops on ACC Staff’s draft energy rules in July through September 2019. On February 18, 2020, the ACC Staff issued a revised proposed set of draft rules which would change the RES and clean energy goals to standards and would provide additional reporting and compliance requirements. In addition, ACC Staff proposed
changing the IRP planning horizon from 15 years to 10 years. Certain ACC Commissioners have proposed different options with different implementation dates of these rules. APS cannot predict the outcome of this matter.
Integrated Resource Planning
ACC rules require utilities to develop 15-year IRPs which describe how the utility plans to serve customer load in the plan timeframe. The ACC reviews each utility’s IRP to determine if it meets the necessary requirements and whether it should be acknowledged. In March of 2018, the ACC reviewed the 2017 IRPs of its jurisdictional utilities and voted to not acknowledge any of the plans. APS does not believe that this lack of acknowledgment will have a material impact on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows. Based on an ACC decision, APS was originally required to file its next IRP by April 1, 2020. On February 20, 2020, the ACC extended the deadline for all utilities to file their IRP’s from April 1, 2020 to June 26, 2020. See "Energy Modernization Rules" above for information regarding proposed changes to the IRP filings.
Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act
In August 2016, APS filed an application requesting that all of its contracts with qualifying facilities over 100 kW be set at a presumptive maximum 2 year term. A qualifying facility is an eligible energy-producing facility as defined by FERC regulations within a host electric utility’s service territory that has a right to sell to the host utility. Host utilities are required to purchase power from qualifying facilities at an avoided cost as determined by the utility subject to state commission oversight. A hearing was held in August 2019 and briefing on this matter was completed in October 2019 regarding APS’s application. On December 17, 2019, the ACC denied the application and mandated a minimum contract length of 18 years for qualifying facilities over 100 kW and the rate paid to the qualifying facilities will be based on the long-term avoided cost. APS is in discussions with qualifying facility developers but has not entered into any new qualifying facility agreements that would be subject to the new requirements of the ACC's decision.
Residential Electric Utility Customer Service Disconnections
On June 13, 2019, APS voluntarily suspended electric disconnections for residential customers who had not paid their bills. On June 20, 2019, the ACC voted to enact emergency rule amendments to prevent residential electric utility customer service disconnections during the period from June 1 through October 15 ("Summer Disconnection Moratorium"). During the Summer Disconnection Moratorium, APS could not charge late fees and interest on amounts that were past due from customers. Customer deposits must also be used to pay delinquent amounts before disconnection can occur and customers will have four months to pay back their deposit and any remaining delinquent amounts. In accordance with the emergency rules, APS began putting delinquent customers on a mandatory four-month payment plan beginning on October 16, 2019. The emergency rule changes will be effective for 180 days and may be renewed for one additional 180-day period.
In addition, in June 2019, the ACC began a formal regular rulemaking process to allow stakeholder input and time for consideration of permanent rule changes. The ACC further ordered that each regulated electric utility serving retail customers in Arizona update its service conditions by incorporating the emergency rule amendments, restore power to any customers who were disconnected during the month of June 2019 and credit any fees that were charged for a reconnection. The ACC Staff issued draft amendments to the customer service disconnections rules. Stakeholders submitted initial comments to the draft amendments on September 23, 2019. ACC stakeholder meetings were held in September 2019, October 2019 and January 2020 regarding the customer service disconnections rules.
Although the emergency rules expired in December 2019, the Summer Disconnection Moratorium will remain in effect through utility tariffs for 2020 and beyond until the ACC adopts permanent rules or determines otherwise.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, APS has voluntarily suspended disconnections of customers for nonpayment beginning March 13, 2020. APS currently estimates that the Summer Disconnection Moratorium, the suspension of disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased bad debt expense associated with both events will result in a negative impact to its 2020 operating results of approximately $20 to $30 million pre-tax above the impact of disconnections on its operating results for years that did not have the Summer Disconnection Moratorium or COVID-19 pandemic. These estimated impact amounts depend on certain assumptions, including customer behaviors, the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy not extending into 2021 and the results of final rulemaking related to the Summer Disconnection Moratorium. See "COVID-19 Pandemic" above for more information.
Retail Electric Competition Rules
On November 17, 2018, the ACC voted to re-examine the facilitation of a deregulated retail electric market in Arizona. An ACC special open meeting workshop was held on December 3, 2018. No substantive action was taken, but interested parties were asked to submit written comments and respond to a list of questions from ACC Staff. On July 1 and July 2, 2019, ACC Staff issued a report and initial proposed draft rules regarding possible modifications to the ACC’s retail electric competition rules. Interested parties filed comments to the ACC Staff report and a stakeholder meeting and workshop to discuss the retail electric competition rules was held on July 30, 2019. ACC Commissioners submitted additional questions regarding this matter. On February 10, 2020, two ACC Commissioners filed two sets of draft proposed retail electric competition rules. On February 12, 2020, ACC staff issued its second report regarding possible modifications to the ACC’s retail electric competition rules. The ACC held a workshop on February 25-26, 2020 for further consideration and discussion of the retail electric competition rules. APS cannot predict whether these efforts will result in any changes and, if changes to the rules results, what impact these rules would have on APS.
Rate Plan Comparison Tool
On November 14, 2019, APS learned that its rate plan comparison tool was not functioning as intended due to an integration error between the tool and the Company’s meter data management system. APS immediately removed the tool from its website and notified the ACC. The purpose of the tool was to provide customers with a rate plan recommendation based upon historical usage data. Upon investigation, APS determined that the error may have affected rate plan recommendations to customers between February 4, 2019 and November 14, 2019. APS is providing refunds to approximately 13,000 potentially impacted customers equal to the difference between what they paid for electricity and the amount they would have paid had they selected their most economical rate, as applicable, and a $25 payment for any inconvenience that the customer may have experienced. The refunds and payment for inconvenience being provided is not expected to have a material impact on APS's financial statements. APS developed a new tool for comparing customers’ rate plan options. APS had an independent third party verify that the new rate comparison tool works correctly. In February 2020, APS launched the new online rate comparison tool, which is now available for its customers. The ACC is currently investigating this matter and has hired an outside consultant to evaluate the extent of the error and the overall effectiveness of the tool. APS received a civil investigative demand from the Office of the Arizona Attorney General, Civil Litigation Division, Consumer Protection & Advocacy Section that seeks information pertaining to the rate plan comparison tool offered to APS customers. APS is fully cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office in this matter. APS cannot predict the outcome of these matters.
Four Corners SCR Cost Recovery
On December 29, 2017, in accordance with the 2017 Rate Case Decision, APS filed a Notice of Intent to file its SCR Adjustment to permit recovery of costs associated with the installation of SCR equipment at Four Corners Units 4 and 5. APS filed the SCR Adjustment request in April 2018. Consistent with the 2017 Rate Case Decision, the request was narrow in scope and addressed only costs associated with this specific environmental compliance equipment. The SCR Adjustment request provided that there would be a $67.5 million annual revenue impact that would be applied as a percentage of base rates for all applicable customers. Also, as provided for in the 2017 Rate Case Decision, APS requested that the adjustment become effective no later than January 1, 2019. The hearing for this matter occurred in September 2018. At the hearing, APS accepted ACC Staff's recommendation of a lower annual revenue impact of approximately $58.5 million. The Administrative Law Judge issued a Recommended Opinion and Order finding that the costs for the SCR project were prudently incurred and recommending authorization of the $58.5 million annual revenue requirement related to the installation and operation of the SCRs. Exceptions to the Recommended Opinion and Order were filed by the parties and intervenors on December 7, 2018. The ACC has not issued a decision on this matter. APS included the costs for the SCR project in the retail rate base in its 2019 retail rate case filing with the ACC. On March 18, 2020, the ACC agreed to take administrative notice to include in the pending rate case portions of the record in this prior proceeding that are relevant to the SCRs. APS cannot predict the outcome or timing of the decision on this matter. APS may be required to record a charge to its results of operations if the ACC issues an unfavorable decision (see SCR deferral in the Regulatory Assets and Liabilities table below).
On September 11, 2014, APS announced that it would close Unit 2 of the Cholla Power Plant ("Cholla") and cease burning coal at the other APS-owned units (Units 1 and 3) at the plant by the mid-2020s, if the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") approved a compromise proposal offered by APS to meet required environmental and emissions standards and rules. On April 14, 2015, the ACC approved APS's plan to retire Unit 2, without expressing any view on the future recoverability of APS's remaining investment in the unit. APS closed Unit 2 on October 1, 2015. In early 2017, EPA approved a final rule incorporating APS's compromise proposal, which took effect on April 26, 2017. In December 2019, PacifiCorp notified APS that it plans to retire Cholla Unit 4 by the end of 2020.
Previously, APS estimated Cholla Unit 2’s end of life to be 2033. APS has been recovering a return on and of the net book value of the unit in base rates. Pursuant to the 2017 Settlement Agreement described above, APS will be allowed continued recovery of the net book value of the unit and the unit’s decommissioning and other retirement-related costs ($69 million as of March 31, 2020), in addition to a return on its investment. In accordance with GAAP, in the third quarter of 2014, Unit 2’s remaining net book value was reclassified from property, plant and equipment to a regulatory asset. The 2017 Settlement Agreement also shortened the depreciation lives of Cholla Units 1 and 3 to 2025.
On March 20, 2019, APS announced that it began evaluating the feasibility and cost of converting a unit at Cholla to burn biomass. Biomass is a fuel comprised of forest trimmings, and a converted unit at Cholla could assist in forest thinning, responsible forest management, an improved watershed, and a reduced wildfire risk. APS’s ability to operate a biomass power plant would depend on third-parties procuring forest biomass for fuel. APS reported the results of its evaluation on May 9, 2019 to the ACC. On July 10, 2019, the ACC voted to not require APS to file a request for proposal to convert the unit at Cholla to burn biomass.
The co-owners of the Navajo Plant and the Navajo Nation agreed that the Navajo Plant would remain in operation until December 2019 under the existing plant lease. The co-owners and the Navajo Nation executed a lease extension on November 29, 2017 that allows for decommissioning activities to begin after the plant ceased operations in November 2019.
APS is currently recovering depreciation and a return on the net book value of its interest in the Navajo Plant over its previously estimated life through 2026. APS will seek continued recovery in rates for the book value of its remaining investment in the plant ($79 million as of March 31, 2020) plus a return on the net book value as well as other costs related to retirement and closure, which are still being assessed and may be material. APS believes it will be allowed recovery of the net book value, in addition to a return on its investment. In accordance with GAAP, in the second quarter of 2017, APS's remaining net book value of its interest in the Navajo Plant was reclassified from property, plant and equipment to a regulatory asset. If the ACC does not allow full recovery of the remaining net book value of this interest, all or a portion of the regulatory asset will be written off and APS's net income, cash flows, and financial position will be negatively impacted.
Regulatory Assets and Liabilities
The detail of regulatory assets is as follows (dollars in thousands):
March 31, 2020
December 31, 2019
Retired power plant costs
Income taxes — allowance for funds used during construction ("AFUDC") equity
Deferred fuel and purchased power — mark-to-market (Note 7)
Deferred fuel and purchased power (b) (c)
Deferred property taxes
Four Corners cost deferral
Lost fixed cost recovery (b)
Income taxes — investment tax credit basis adjustment
Palo Verde VIEs (Note 6)
Loss on reacquired debt
Mead-Phoenix transmission line contributions in aid of construction ("CIAC")
TCA balancing account (b)
Tax expense of Medicare subsidy
Tax expense adjuster mechanism (b)
Total regulatory assets (d)
This asset represents the future recovery of pension benefit obligations through retail rates. If these costs are disallowed by the ACC, this regulatory asset would be charged to other comprehensive income ("OCI") and result in lower future revenues.
See "Cost Recovery Mechanisms" discussion above.
Subject to a carrying charge.
There are no regulatory assets for which the ACC has allowed recovery of costs, but not allowed a return by exclusion from rate base. FERC rates are set using a formula rate as described in "Transmission Rates, Transmission Cost Adjustor and Other Transmission Matters."
The detail of regulatory liabilities is as follows (dollars in thousands):
March 31, 2020
December 31, 2019
Excess deferred income taxes - ACC - Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (a)
Excess deferred income taxes - FERC - Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (a)
Asset retirement obligations
Other postretirement benefits
Spent nuclear fuel
Income taxes — change in rates
Four Corners coal reclamation
Income taxes — deferred investment tax credit
Renewable energy standard (b)
Demand side management (b)
Active union medical trust
Property tax deferral
Tax expense adjustor mechanism (b)
Deferred gains on utility property
FERC transmission true up
Total regulatory liabilities
For purposes of presentation on the Statement of Cash Flows, amortization of the regulatory liabilities for excess deferred income taxes are reflected as "Deferred income taxes" under Cash Flows From Operating Activities.
See “Cost Recovery Mechanisms” discussion above.
In accordance with regulatory accounting guidance, APS accrues removal costs for its regulated assets, even if there is no legal obligation for removal.
See Note 5.