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May 25, 2015

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Legislative bill on power rates already stirring controversy

A bill involving electric rates has been introduced in the Nevada Senate, and the state Bureau of Consumer Protection says it is an effort by NV Energy to avoid lowering its rates.

The Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee on Thursday sponsored SB93 to extend from three years to five years the time an electric company would be required to file a general rate case with the state Public Utilities Commission.

A general rate case occurs so a utility can justify its rates in covering operating expenses — or seek a rate increase.

Committee Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, said electric companies feel they should not be required to submit a rate case every three years if there are no changes.

NV Energy declined comment and said a hearing will be held next week to present its testimony.

But Dan Jacobsen, technical manager of the consumer bureau, said this is another attempt by NV Energy to dodge reducing its rates.

"This is not a surprise," Jacobsen said about the bill. He said NV Energy officials have been bragging to investors about their savings.

NV Energy announced Thursday that its quarterly dividend to investors was increased by 12 percent. Investors will receive a cash dividend of 19 cents per share on March 20 compared with the 17 cents paid on Dec. 19.

NV Energy serves an estimated 2.4 million customers in Northern and Southern Nevada.

The utility must submit its general rate adjustment in June 2014 under the current law.

There have been several rate increases approved by the PUC for the utility. But Jacobsen said the scheduled hearings will show the rates should go down.

He said the utility is telling Wall Street investors that the installation of the smart meters will save from $12 million to $25 million. In addition, he said the lower interest rates should result on reduced profits.

"The companies want to keep these savings for another two years," he said.

He said the utility is raising the dividends to investors while failing to reduce rates to consumers,

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