by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
NV Energy is asking regulators to increase power bills in Southern Nevada by an average of about 3% in order to keep up with the energy demands of the area’s growth, a company executive told ratepayers during a consumer session Wednesday before the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.
The utility is asking regulators to approve a 3.3% general rate increase for its full-service Southern Nevada customers, residential and commercial, and an 81% rate increase for distribution-only customers such as Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International, and Switch, according to the filing with the Public Utilities Commission.
The rate hike would generate $96 million for the company “to operate its business and support the installation of infrastructure for new growth and system reliability investments,” Janet Wells, NV Energy’s vice president of the utility’s regulatory division said during the session.
The PUC is expected to vote on the request in December.
“The economic growth has spurred load growth in Southern Nevada and requires the company to invest in projects that enhance reliability and improve general facility generation facilities…” Wells said, citing the need to meet peak hour demand, to deliver clean energy solutions, including solar and battery storage at the decommissioned former coal-fired Reid Gardner generating station, replace wooden poles with metal poles, and upgrade transmission and distribution lines.
Wells said the increase is NV Energy’s first general rate-hike request since 2011 and estimated the average increase to residential customers at $5.50 a month.
The utility files quarterly rate requests with the PUC to adjust its deferred energy rate. NV Energy is currently collecting about $1.6 billion in deferred energy costs from customers statewide.
The utility added about $600 million to its deferred energy balance, from which it earns a profit, when it deferred a portion of summer power bills this year.
“There are people that can’t pay this,” ratepayer John Collopy told PUC Commissioner Tammy Cordova, citing inflation, which is primarily driven by increasing energy costs.
Customer Angel DeFazio chastised the utility’s president, Doug Cannon, for not attending consumer sessions. “Show up and face the music.”
Las Vegan Bruce Rugar noted the proposed increase in the monthly service charge from $12.50 to $18.50 is a 48% increase, and noted NV Energy’s total cost-per-customer projection “masks the magnitude of the increase NV Energy proposes to retain.”
NV Energy’s stock price has increased from $49 a share to $85 a share in the last year.
“We anticipate costs to continue to go down,” NV Energy spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said via email. “As long as market conditions continue to stabilize, we anticipate a decrease of approximately 35 to 40 percent in energy rates towards the second half of 2024.”
Wells of NV Energy noted the utility offers options for customers to “take greater control of their energy costs,” as well as payment options designed to ease the burden of paying power bills.
But customers suggested programs such as FlexPay, intended to spread out costly summer bills, are not feasible for some, especially those on fixed incomes.
Additionally, an investigation by the Energy and Policy Institute, based on 100 complaints about NV Energy filed with the PUC in the first seven months of the year and obtained via a records request, reveals numerous occasions when ratepayers who took part in the utility’s payment options struggled to keep up or abandoned the plans, and ended up with bills totaling thousands of dollars, and unable to avoid disconnection.
The report includes a complaint filed by a customer who NV Energy says failed to submit all the paperwork required to be exempt from disconnection for medical reasons, and was transported to the hospital for lack of oxygen supply when their power was shut off.
“The company takes customer complaints very seriously and thoroughly investigates grievances – including the ones in this report – to resolve concerns and offer solutions,” Delaney said. “Disconnecting service is never NV Energy’s desired outcome.”
The process for terminating service is regulated by the PUC, she notes, adding the utility’s legal obligations are outlined in the Consumer Bill of RIghts.
If approved, the rate hike will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
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