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State consumer advocate raises red flags over NV Energy's proposed electric rates, warns of potential utility bill hike

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder

Nevada’s consumer advocate is raising red flags over NV Energy’s proposed electric rates, saying a recent amendment raising a subset of electric charges could lead to higher prices without sufficient notice.

In the motion filed Thursday with the state Public Utilities Commission, state Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa asked members of the regulatory body to schedule another session designed for public input into the ratemaking process and to order NV Energy to re-file a portion of its general rate case application with more accurate numbers.

Namely, the consumer watchdog took issue with the “dramatically different” proposed rates amended last week by NV Energy, and said the change would lead to a 2.01 percent rate increase for single-family residential customers, primarily driven by a $4.01 hike in the monthly assessed basic service charge — the fixed amount charged to electric customers every month.

Figueroa called claims made by the company in June when it first filed the general rate case application that it would have no impact on customer bills “clearly inaccurate and misleading.”

“In order for a Consumer Session to be meaningful, consumers must have accurate notice of the potential impact of the company's new dramatically redesigned proposal,” Figueroa wrote in the filing. “Failing to do so would compromise due process.”

General rate cases are required under Nevada law to take place every three years, and are the process by which investor-owned utilities (NV Energy) propose electric rates for all customers, which is then vetted by PUC commissioners and others in public.

NV Energy’s initial general rate application was filed in June, with utility CEO Paul Caudill boasting that the utility would keep average residential power bills to the same level they were in 2008, with no rate changes for the vast majority of customer classes.

“We understand that our customers run their homes and businesses on a budget and my NV Energy colleagues and I are committed to doing the same,” he said in a news release.

Figueroa said that the company had failed to provide accurate notice of the proposed rate changes, which could affect the more than 517,000 single-family residential customers who receive electric service from the utility, and that a consumer session on the proposed rates would “likely not be meaningful” given the last-minute change in proposed rates.

“Ratepayers deserve and in fact require specific, accurate notice of rate increases,” he wrote.

In a transmittal letter sent last week to the PUC signifying the new rates, the utility says the new rates are in part based on the expected cost of implementing AB405 — a 2017 law reinstating favorable “net metering” rates for rooftop solar customers.

NV Energy spokeswoman Andrea Smith said the utility was simply following through on the commission's order in the net metering case by assessing the program's overall cost to consumers.

"To be clear, NV Energy is asking for no additional revenue for its core operations," she said in an email.  "As directed by a Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) order issued last Friday, NV Energy is requesting in its general rate review filing to change how costs are allocated amongst different customers due to the implementation of new private solar generation policies enacted in the most recent legislative session."

In addition to Monday’s consumer session, full hearings on various parts of the general rate application are scheduled throughout October and November.

Updated at 9:25 a.m. to include comment from an NV Energy spokeswoman.

Disclosure: NV Energy has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
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