PHOENIX — State utility regulators on Thursday invited the top executive of Arizona Public Service to answer questions at next month’s Arizona Corporation Commission meeting, with the clear implication that if he doesn’t come willingly they will force the issue.
“It’s time, past time, that this commission hears from the executive of APS,” said Sandra Kennedy.
But don’t expect to find Don Brandt, who is CEO of both APS and parent company Pinnacle West Capital Corp., sitting in the witness chair when the panel meets Aug. 6.
“We will be sending our most senior subject-matter official,” said company spokeswoman Suzanne Treviño. And she declined to answer questions of what the utility would do if commissioners exercise their legal power to subpoena Brandt.
Kennedy told Capitol Media Services after Thursday’s meeting that the offer of some lower-level executive appearing before the panel is not going to cut it. “The person who really needs to come in here is Don Brandt,” she said. “He is the CEO of the company and that’s who we really need to hear from.”
That’s not to say Kennedy would spurn testimony from other company leaders. But she said she wants to pose her questions directly to him.
“He comes in as being the CEO and brings his entourage with him,” Kennedy said. “And as the questions are being asked, he can either respond or say, ‘A better response could come from A, B, C or D. But he needs to be in the room and he needs to be present.”
Commissioner Justin Olson said he’s less concerned about whether Brandt, who earns more than $1 million a month in his job, is the person in the witness chair.
“What’s important to me is that we get the information that’s necessary to properly regulate the utility,” he said. Olson said if regulators get what they want and need from the proffered APS witnesses, that ends the matter.
“If we feel that it is insufficient, that somebody else has the answers that we need, then we will take the actions necessary to get the correct information,” he said.
But Commission Chairman Bob Burns said it shouldn’t be necessary to have this two-step procedure.
He said there is information that only Brandt, as CEO of both Pinnacle West and APS, would have. Burns said its quite different to get an on-the-record answer from the CEO — possibly one made under oath — than from some underling.
“There are things that only his answer carries the true weight of what the decisions were, decisions that he made,” Burns said. And the chairman said that, no matter how APS reads the request for testimony, “Brandt is on top of the list.”
There’s something else. Burns said it is important for regulators to not let APS set the rules for the hearing.
“Symbolically, it says if we can’t bring a regulated executive into the commission, somebody’s not following the constitution,” he said.
Less clear is exactly what regulators want to ask.
Burns said he has no specific questions in mind, at least as this point. He figures individual commissioners will work with staffers to craft a list of questions they want answered and documents they want produced.
There are likely to be questions about the how the utility established its policies of when to disconnect customers for nonpayment of bills and what efforts, if any, the company made to reach out ahead of pulling the plug.
Those questions arose following disclosure earlier this year that a 72-year-old Sun City West resident died in her home last year of heat-related complications after APS disconnected the power when she had paid only part of her monthly bill.
Utility officials said they followed all procedures.