Power through the storm?
SOUTH LAKE TAHEO, Calif. – Concerns about how a new, smaller electric company will be able to respond to widespread power outages persist following a change in energy providers in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Liberty Energy – California Pacific Electric Company completed its purchase of Sierra Pacific Power Company’s electrical distribution and generation assets Jan. 1.
The power company was previously referred to as CalPeco in California Public Utilities Commission documents. Sierra Pacific Power Company is a subsidiary of NV Energy and included the Nevada corporation’s California operations.
Two South Lake Tahoe City Council members, Tom Davis and Bruce Grego, said they are concerned with how the new company will be able to respond to power outages like those experienced last week.
NV Energy serves about 1.2 million customers in Nevada, while Liberty Energy’s coverage includes 46,000 customers in Nevada, Placer, Sierra, Plumas, Mono, Alpine and El Dorado counties.
“They’re a small company; do they have the resources to deal with a power outage?” Davis asked Thursday.
Wet, heavy snow knocked out power to almost 10,000 customers at the South Shore Dec. 29. Although most customers’ electricity was restored Dec. 30, some were without power for more than 48 hours.
Several NV Energy crews from Reno and the Carson Valley were used to help restore power at the lake.
Bob Dodds, president and general manager of Liberty Energy, said the new company will have two crews at the North Shore and two crews at the South Shore, just like Sierra Pacific did.
He also said the new power company will also be able to use resources from NV Energy when necessary.
“We have agreements with NV Energy that we can pull in crews as we need,” Dodds said.
The agreements are formal, but are not available for public review because they are proprietary, Dodds said.
Dodds said the goal is to make the transition between Sierra Pacific and Liberty Energy as seamless as possible.
The South Lake Tahoe City Council approved transfer of the city’s franchise agreement from Sierra Pacific to Liberty Energy in October. The 25-year agreement ends in 2018.
Councilman Bruce Grego was the lone dissenting vote against the transfer. He asked for a delay so the transfer could receive further scrutiny. On Thursday, he said the City Council should have been more critical of transferring the franchise agreement, possibly placing conditions on the new company to ensure service standards.
At the time, then-Councilman Bill Crawford said it would be “frivolous” to delay a vote on the item because the council cannot prevent NV Energy from selling its property.
The lack of a vested interest in the area covered by Liberty Energy by NV Energy could delay help to the South Shore in the case of widespread power outages, Davis said. Using another company’s resources could also pass along costs to consumers, Davis added.
Customers’ monthly bills should remain at the same level, but will be itemized differently because of the switch, Dodds said. He said a rate increase in 2012 should be similar to what Sierra Pacific would have proposed.
NV Energy spokeswoman Faye Anderson did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Davis called the potential for long-lasting, widespread power outages in winter “very disturbing,” especially for seniors or others who have trouble leaving a residence in an emergency.
Both Davis and Grego said they’ve asked City Manager Tony O’Rourke to discuss emergency response preparations at an upcoming council meeting, especially when it comes to keeping the lights on in the city.
Neither councilman had any doubt that the city will see a storm similar to last week’s in the future.
Grego said he hoped Liberty Energy would be a part of the discussions with the city. But what the city can do beyond that may be limited, Grego said.
“I think the only thing we can do is wait and see how they perform,” Grego said.