Thursday, July 17, 1997 | 9:42 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- "We're in for a wild ride," says Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, as he looks into the future of open competition for electric customers.
Gov. Bob Miller on Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 366, which inches Nevada into the field of competition. The bill "sets a good tone for the future" for Nevada, which will "have to cope with deregulation" of the electric industry, he said.
Townsend, who played a major part in drafting the bill, said it "sets the framework for the future." For the next 18 months, the restructured state Public Service Commission, which is to be renamed the Public Utilities Commission, will be getting ready, drafting rules and doing studies.
"All of the things you have seen in telecommunications will now come over to the electric field," Townsend said. "There's some real exciting times in the electric field for all the customers.
"You have to couple that with the entire issue of marketing," Townsend said. "People tend to forget this concept. This is not just about buying cheap power.
"It will be bundled with everything else," he said, such as telephones, online and cable services.
The date of open competition must be no later than Dec. 31, 1999.
The five-member PSC will be reduced to three. It must adopt its rules by January 1999 to prepare for competition. Groups or companies that want to sell power to customers must be licensed by the commission.
Commissioner Judy Sheldrew said one of the PSC's biggest tasks will be educating the consumer.
"We have to start a public education campaign that will be designed to inform all consumers -- not just large consumers, but residential, commercial, industrial consumers -- of what is involved in developing competitive electricity markets."
Sheldrew said the commission in the next two years "will do the rulemaking that will unbundle services (in the electric industry), determine what the rates are and begin licensing some of the alternate sellers that will be coming in to provide potentially competitive services."
"We made commitments to have the regulations done before the next session," she said.
Townsend said one of the big dates everybody will be looking at is Jan. 1, 1998, and "what happens in California," when open competition begins. "That's going to be a test program to the entire world."
"When we get back here (in 1999) and we've seen 12 months worth of California, there will be a lot of new things coming up," Townsend said.
The bill also sets up a three-member Transportation Services Authority to oversee truckers, tow cars, taxicabs and other transportation businesses. The Taxicab Authority in Las Vegas, however, will continue to operate in its present fashion.
The present duties of the PSC will be split between utilities and transportation Oct. 1.
Also, the bill ends restrictions on big oil companies from starting more company-owned service stations in Nevada. It repeals the 10-year-old "divorcement" law that protected small operators who lease or own stations from facing unlimited competition from the likes of Arco, Shell or Texaco.
The legislation permits refiners to add two company-operated service stations this year and a total of 15 more stations by by the end of 1999.