Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011 | 12:44 p.m.
CARSON CITY – The state Public Utilities Commission authorized NV Energy to raise its rates, with the increase on an average single-family home in Las Vegas an estimated 10-11 percent.
The electric utility had sought an increase of more than 20 percent.
After hearing protests from a handful of customers, the commission voted to allow the rates to take effect Jan. 1.
The rate increase for commercial customers will be 7 percent or less because commercial customers have been subsidizing residential customers. The goal of the company and the commission is to eliminate commercial subsidies to residential customers.
The exact size of the rate increase is unknown at this point. The commission said NV Energy will have to analyze its 240-page decision to determine the exact rates.
Simultaneous with the rate increase is a 3 percent decline in fuel costs, which are passed on to customers, lowering the overall increase customers will see in their bills, said the commission.
One customer, Mike Hazard, argued that it’s not time for an energy rate increase, given the depth of the recession and the state’s high unemployment. Kristal Glass, owner of a small business in Las Vegas, asked when NV Energy will consider its rates high enough.
Commissioner Rebecca Wagner and Chairwoman Alaina Burtenshaw said the PUC must abide by what is in the record built over three weeks of hearings. Burtenshaw said she took exception at criticism that the decision by the PUC was made behind closed doors.
The commission decided that ratepayers won’t pick up the cost of 4 percent of its employees’ salaries. That could translate to a 4 percent reduction in employee pay but a PUC spokesman said the utility’s board of directors can decide what to do.
The commission also set the company’s rate of return at 10 percent, down from the 10.25 percent. The company asked for an 11.25 percent rate of return.
The commission had some harsh words about the utility’s service to customers. The commission, in a decision written by Wagner, said the average wait for NV Energy to answer customers’ telephone calls has declined from 2 minutes 33 seconds in 2008 to 4 minute 40 seconds in 2010.
NV Energy held 20 positions open in its call center, about 15 percent of the staff. The company had planned to transfer some meters readers into call center positions but that has not happened.
The utility says its meter reader numbers will be reduced by 95 with the installation of digital meters.
“The Commission finds that NV Energy’s reduction in customer service as a result of its failure to adequately staff its call center operations is unacceptable,” the opinion stated.