Reliable health

Comforts and necessities casualties of higher power bills, Nevadans tell regulators

Diana Diaz has been off the streets for five years, but the prospect of staying current on her bills makes her worry about being homeless again. 

“When you increase the electric bill every year, twice a year, it’s very hard for people on limited income every month to pay the rent,” she told members of the Public Utilities Commission Tuesday during a consumer comment session on a proposed 3.3% NV Energy rate hike.

Van Angela Marquez says her youngest daughter dropped out of cheer and dance in her senior year of high school, got a part time job, and “suddenly didn’t want to go to college” as the family’s NV Energy bill tripled in the last year and half. “She deserves opportunities for higher learning. She should be thinking about college activities. Instead, she’s worried about ‘how’s my mom going to make it.’”

Indi Kaufman, a single mother of two, says her electric bill has doubled from $75 to $150 in recent months, but she doesn’t qualify for energy assistance. She says she may be forced to choose between health care and paying her power bill. 

“I shouldn’t have to do that,” she told the commissioners. “Nobody should have to do that. And I’m sure the CEOs in this company have never ever had to make that hard choice.”

NV Energy is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, which is owned in large part by billionaire Warren Buffett 

Nevadans are sacrificing their comfort, foregoing activities for their children, and shelving plans for the future in order to pay the escalating cost of electricity, according to public comments before the PUC, which is considering NV Energy’s request to adjust rates effective January of 2024. 

Janet Wells of NV Energy says the utility’s revenue from rates would increase by $7.48 million in Northern Nevada, while decreasing by $8.2 million in the south. The residential basic monthly service charge would increase from $12.50 a month to $18.50 statewide.  

In a statement, the utility said it shares its customers’ goals of “reliable, sustainable and affordable power. At the same time, NV Energy must have resources available to reliably serve our customers. Natural gas is important for reliability and in fact allows us to add more renewable energy because those units can quickly ramp up and down in response to the availability of intermittent renewable resources.”

The utility says the increase is needed to cover $92.7 million in costs, including purchased natural gas and power in 2022.  

Dozens of NV Energy customers pleaded with the PUC to reject the utility’s application for the rate hike, much of which would be used to fund legislatively-mandated energy efficiency and conservation programs. 

“NV Energy outrageously opposed Assembly Bill 425 in this past legislative session, which would have allowed solar panels on low income housing,” Bari Levinson, a retired chemical engineer and physician told the PUC. “Why in the world would they oppose this common sense legislation that would have really benefited low income people? I can only assume that it would have cut into their profits.”

Not everyone is opposed to the rate hike. Union officials, eager for the construction jobs that accompany capital projects, testified in favor. 

“We believe NV Energy’s application and actions strike the right balance in ensuring that Nevadans have access to reliable, affordable and sustainable power,” Wendy Newman of the 

Southern Nevada chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association told commissioners. 

Ronnie Young, representing IBEW Local 357 of Southern Nevada, said closing NV Energy’s open position – a lack of diversity in its energy resource portfolio that subjects it to market exposure and requires it to resort to purchasing costly energy on the open market — the utility’s goal in legislation passed earlier this month, will protect customers from price gouging by outside suppliers.  

Danny Thompson, representing the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades, touted the importance of natural gas as a transition to renewables. 

“These renewable resources aren’t producing power for instance, when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining,” he said.

But the majority of speakers, many from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and Make the Road Nevada, an immigration advocacy group, complained the cost of electricity is felt in myriad ways.  

“It’s meals disappearing from our table,” said Roberto Renteria. “I struggle to understand how we’re expected to pay more when our salaries remain the same. Consider families like mine already stretched to the limit for whom this increase would make achieving a dignified life even more difficult.” 

The PUC will hold a hearing on NV Energy’s rate hike request on August 21. 

Also Tuesday, the PUC accepted a stipulated agreement between NV Energy and the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection that will result in lower rates for electricity consumed in July, August, and September, the months of highest usage. 

The average Southern Nevada customer would have paid about $472 for electricity used in July, according to a projection from Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa. The lower rate will save about $63 on that same bill. 

The stipulation calls for NV Energy to forego $3 million in incremental carrying charges – the utility’s cost of providing electricity that is not immediately paid for by customers – which will reduce the burden on ratepayers when the utility collects the deferred charges later. 

Unlike electricity, which must be passed on to consumers at cost, NV Energy is permitted to earn a profit on carrying charges.  

NV Energy earned $36.2 million ($28.4 million in Southern Nevada and $7.8 million in Northern Nevada) last year in profit on deferred energy balances, according to exhibits filed in pending cases before the Public Utilities Commission.  

The PUC will vote June 27 on whether to approve the stipulation. 

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