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Electric bills to soar again

Jeff Munson

Stock up on those energy-saving light bulbs, unplug the lava lamp and adjust your refrigerator’s thermostat, because electric rates here are set to go up.

Way up.

Again.

The Public Utilities Commission approved a 16.5 percent rate hike on Thursday for Sierra Pacific Power Company customers on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The hike is said to recover some $11.2 million in costs for fuel and power purchased for customers.

The typical residential customer using 650 kilowatt hours of electricity will see at least a 16 percent rise in their monthly bill from $82.06 to $94.93, or about $13 to $14 per month. Businesses, depending on their size, will likely see greater increases. Customers will begin to see the change on their bills beginning Nov. 1. The request was a dollar-for-dollar pass-through to customers, and while Sierra Pacific is a for-profit publicly traded company, the latest hike, the company says, won’t result in a profit to the company.

For public agencies like schools, which are in business not to make a profit, rate hikes can cut deep into budgets that already are cut to the bone. At Lake Tahoe Unified School District, hikes like this one will force the district to look at its operating budget and adjust its numbers.

“Certainly we will have to re-adjust our utility projections for the coming year,” said the district’s facilities manager, Steve Morales. “The other thing we will have to do is to see which category of users will be affected by this. Some sites may get hit more than others. It’s something we will have to take a look at.”

Wholesale energy prices have remained volatile for the past few years and that’s why Sierra Pacific uses the rate hike to recover its costs on behalf of our customers, said Mary Simmons, vice president of external affairs for the utility giant.

“Energy prices have begun to roll back lately, but have not yet stabilized to levels that would have a positive impact on customers,” she said.

Known as an Energy Cost Adjustment Clause, the company filed with the CPUC in April to recover additional costs of energy such as fuel to generate electricity and purchases of power on behalf of customers, with no mark-up by the utility.

The filing is made when the utility must purchase energy that costs significantly more than it charges customers and needs to adjust rates to recover the costs that are not included in current rates. When energy costs are lower than the company charges its customers, the company requests to lower rates. The last time Sierra Pacific requested to recover additional energy costs was two years ago.

About 80 percent of Sierra Pacific’s 46,000 California customers reside in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The company’s California service area extends from Portola in the north to Markleeville and Topaz Lake to Coleville in the south. Sierra Pacific has approximately 275,000 customers in northern Nevada.


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