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Casinos want power move

A bill allowing major power consumers including casinos to negotiate their own power deals awaits action by the Nevada Supreme Court.

AB 661 passed both houses of the Nevada Legislature three weeks ago, but it came to a floor vote after the midnight June 4 deadline. The bill was considered again during the June 14 special session but never came to a vote.

The court will hear arguments July 6 in Carson City on whether AB 661 and another bill passed after the deadline are valid. If not, deregulation efforts will have to wait until February 2003 when the Legislature reconvenes.



Casino and mining representatives are expected to attend the hearing.

“They’ll have to prove that their leaving wouldn’t damage anyone else (on the grid),” said Nevada Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, who voted for the bill.



Hettrick said he understands why casinos want to broker their own deals with power providers. Stateline casinos are located in Hettrick’s 39th District.

“We clearly felt the legislation was worth passing,” Hettrick said.

Gov. Kenny Guinn, who once ran Southwest Gas, has indicated he would sign AB 661 if the bill is certified by the high court.

“In some respects, this may be a test case of deregulation,” Michael Hillerby, Guinn’s deputy chief of staff, said Tuesday.

The governor’s office and lawmakers are exploring modular approaches to deregulation such as “direct access,” which permits a user to buy power from one company and pay another company to deliver it over transmission wires. That’s already available to residents of California, where deregulation began in 1997.

Reno-based Sierra Pacific Power Co. supports AB 661, even though casinos are large accounts. The utility generates, transmits and distributes electricity to northern Nevada and California residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Communications Manager Faye Andersen said she doesn’t believe the company will be hurt by the loss of some major customers, but it’s “hard to say” whether the company will experience a loss in revenue.

“Our main concern was that our customers (who) remain on the system were protected, and the bill does that,” Andersen said.

If the bill is signed into law, Harveys Casino Resorts may choose Houston-based Enron Corporation or Idaho Power to supply its electricity, Phil Herback, director of facilities and governmental affairs, said Tuesday. Such an agreement would require approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada.

For Harveys, the bulk power-buy may come out of Harrah’s corporate offices in Las Vegas, which is in the midst of acquiring Harveys.

The casino would need to save about 5 percent on its electric bill to make the direct-access deal worthwhile, Herback indicated. Harveys currently pays up to $190,000 a month in electric power costs for the average summer month.


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