Wednesday, May 7, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Richard Cherchio didn’t win last year when he ran for a seat on the North Las Vegas City Council.
But he hasn’t stopped fighting, becoming one of the city’s most recognizable activists. And last week, he even won one of his battles.
The Public Utilities Commission has approved an agreement that will allow Nevada homeowners associations to replace existing gas lamps with low-voltage electric or solar lamps, a move that could save HOAs thousands of dollars annually.
The commission approved the agreement with Southwest Gas Corp. and more than 20 associations across the valley after months of lobbying by the North Las Vegas Alliance of Homeowners Associations and Concerned Citizens, a group led by Cherchio.
“Finally we won something over here and we garnered the respect of a lot of people because it was the right thing to do,” he said.
The decision could affect the future of the 17,000 gas lamps in neighborhoods from Summerlin to Boulder City.
Southwest Gas has agreed to shut off the gas flow to the lamps for free or completely cut the gas lines at a reduced rate. Once the lines are cut, the lamps can be replaced. However, the gas company will not pay to replace the lamps, which would be owned by the HOAs under the agreement.
“It’s an appliance,” Southwest gas spokeswoman Cynthia Messina said. “If we disconnect to your stove it would be the same thing.”
Cherchio is the president of The Parks HOA in the Aliante section of North Las Vegas. His neighborhood has 552 gas lamps, costing the 449-home community about $9,300 a month in gas bills — roughly $20 per home and more than one-third of the HOA’s budget.
Last year he attempted to switch the community’s lamps to electric. But he was told by Southwest Gas that it would cost $240 per line to cut the gas lines, some of which serve multiple lamps. At that price, the association’s bill would have been $105,000.
“We told them that is unacceptable,” Cherchio said. “We told them we can’t afford it.”
After months of talks with the Public Utilities Commission and Southwest Gas a deal was reached under which the gas company would cut and cap the lines for $60 per line.
The agreement allows the HOAs to do their own excavation to the lines, but the gas company must cut the lines. Essentially, the company allowed the HOAs to hire or use their own workers to do most of the work.
Messina said the main concern was the safety of workers not affiliated with the gas company working on the lines. The company has no problem with the agreement, she said.
The Parks plans to change to 12-volt electric lamps, which will be paid for by the homeowners. The planned switch requires a communitywide vote.
Cherchio said each residence will see about a $1.50 increase on monthly electric bills. It will cost $200,000 to install the lights.
However, the $9,300 monthly gas bill savings will allow the HOA to start saving money after two years.
“This is actually everything we desired,” Cherchio said. “It’s a good green issue and it’s a good savings for all the associations.”