Interim electricity rate hikes requested |

Interim electricity rate hikes requested

Lake Tahoe electric consumers, who have been shielded from skyrocketing rates in the rest of California, could see their power bills surge this summer by as much as 28 percent if Sierra Pacific Power has its way.

The Reno-based utility company filed Friday with the California Public Utilities Commission for an interim rate increase, a practice used to tide electricity providers over until a general rate increase goes into effect.

Sierra Pacific plans to file for a general rate increase in January. It expects this request – which should amount to more than the interim hike – to become effective in March.

While the company’s 44,000 California customers are covered by a rate freeze until March, it still has the legal right to seek a rate hike, CPUC officials said Friday.

“It’s a proposal. It doesn’t mean they can get it,” said Rosalina White, CPUC assistant policy advisor. The CPUC must hold public hearings before approving any rate increase.

The company seeks an emergency rate increase of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour from its customers. This could send a bill for a typical residential customer – defined as one using 650 kilowatt-hours a month – from $47.12 to $60.12.

Sierra Pacific representatives said a rate hike proposal was imminent during a CPUC hearing in South Lake Tahoe last Monday. Like other utilities in the western United States, Sierra Pacific is facing high prices for natural gas to fuel its generation plants. The company buys about half its power from the wholesale market.

“Our wholesale costs have gone through the roof because of the energy crisis in the West,” said Mary Simmons, a Sierra Pacific spokeswoman.

Sierra Pacific Resources, the power company’s parent, posted an $83 million loss last year.

“If we’re not able to obtain the rate relief in California similar to what we’ve gotten in Nevada, the company will take a hit financially,” Sierra Pacific spokesman Karl Walquist said.

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