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Nevada Territory

Power bills rising to pay for energy efficiency programs

Updated Monday, May 23, 2011 | 6:36 p.m.

What the PUC decision means:

  • An average 3.4 percent increase for Southern Nevada customers: $5.29 a month
  • An average of 1.6 percent increase for Northern Nevada customers: $1.47 a month

Southern Nevada energy rates will rise about 3.4 percent, or about $5.29 a month on the average residential home bill, to pay for energy efficiency programs and the lost sales related to those efforts for NV Energy, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada ruled today.

The rate increase was the result of legislation passed in 2009 that allow the company to recover costs of energy efficiency programs the company implements, such as subsidizing light bulbs and replacing old refrigerators and air conditioners, and the resulting energy sales it would have made without those programs.

The three-member Public Utilities Commission of Nevada unanimously approved the increase.

NV Energy had sought a 5 percent rate increase in Southern Nevada. In Northern and most of rural Nevada, it had sought a 2.5 percent increase.

Northern Nevadans will see a 1.6 percent increase, or an average residential monthly payment of $1.47. (The lesser amount is because Northern Nevada recently had a regularly scheduled rate increase and has different energy efficiency programs.)

John Owens, with NV Energy, said he did not believe the company would challenge the ruling.

The increase in rates will be effective on July 1, but will be partly offset for Southern Nevadans by falling natural gas prices and more efficient energy production, Owens said.

Most of the increase is used to pay for the cost of programs such as subsidizing light bulbs, he said.

With Nevada having among the highest power rates in the West, consumer advocates have expressed concern about this rate case, piled on top of other pending legislation being considered by the 2011 Legislature.

“I think the commission took a very thorough look at this,” said Dan Jacobsen, with the Bureau of Consumer Protection. He said he was “pleased with a lot of things in the order” but his office had opposed the company reaching back to 2008 to calculate some lost sales. The legislation passed in 2009, and the commission adopted regulations in August 2010.

A group of ratepayers, some of whom are tied to a union fight with NV Energy related to retirement benefits, showed up at the meeting, jointly held in Las Vegas and Carson City, and gave testimony opposing the rate increase.

Rita Weisshaar, a retired NV Energy worker, said “Any rate increase is going to hurt. We’re so beat up in Nevada right now.”

Alaina Burtenshaw, chairwoman of the PUC, said citizens should talk to legislators. “At the end of the day, they’re the ones who make the laws we have to follow,” she said.

If the commission took no action, law would require that the utility’s request take effect, she said.

Rebecca Wagner, a commissioner, said at the beginning of the meeting that she understood consumers were “maxed out” on their energy bills. Still, the PUC had to balance the interests of consumers and NV Energy shareholders.

She worried that media reports had “demonized the concept” of energy efficiency, which is among the most cost-effective ways to reduce the need for the construction of new power plants.

NV Energy is scheduled to apply for a general rate increase on June 1. It has also filed an application to build more than 500 miles of transmission lines in the Western part of the state. Owens said it was unclear how those applications would affect consumers.

Additionally, Assembly Bill 150, unanimously passed by the Legislature this session and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, expands the definition of energy efficiency programs the utility can use. Owens said the company would look at the costs and benefits of additional programs, likely next year.

UPDATED at 5:23 p.m.

NV Energy said it has calculated the impact of the quarterly fuel and purchase power adjustment. The change will be a 1.7 percent decrease in southern Nevada and 3.28 percent decrease in northern Nevada, effective July 1. The total impact with the energy efficiency rate increase will be an estimated 1.7 percent increase in southern Nevada and a 1.5 percent rate decrease in northern Nevada, according to NV Energy.

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