State’s consumer advocate urges PUC to dismiss rate hike
CARSON CITY (AP) – Nevada’s consumer advocate filed a legal brief Tuesday urging the state Public Utilities Commission to cancel a record $311 million rate increase granted to two major electric utilities.
Tim Hay said the rate hike request from Las Vegas-based Nevada Power Co. and Reno-based Sierra Pacific Power Co. was illegal. By canceling its earlier approval, he said the PUC would tell the utilities ”that they must comply with the law, regardless of their financial condition.”
Hay was joined by Barrick Goldstrike Mines, the Department of Energy, MGM Mirage and other gambling interests in challenging the 17 percent rate increase.
The consumer advocate said Nevada law prohibits utilities from filing more than once every 30 days for increased cost of fuel and purchased power. The application was filed 17 days after the companies filed a similar request.
The previous filing was part of last summer’s plan that lets the utilities raise rates slightly every month. By 2003, the incremental increases could total about 44 percent.
Hay also argued that the utilities didn’t include required financial information in the filings.
PUC spokeswoman Cynthia Messina said the commission checked with legal counsel before allowing the rate hike to take effect, and determined it was legal.
More importantly, she said the PUC still is auditing the case. If later data show the increase isn’t warranted, ratepayers could get refunds.
Under the rate hike, residential and small commercial customers were hit with increases averaging just over 13 percent. Hotel-casinos got increases of about 20 percent, mines got rate hikes averaging about 25 percent, and agricultural irrigators got increases ranging from 15 percent to nearly 30 percent.
A residential customer who gets by on just 650 kilowatt hours of electricity a month saw a 10.4 percent increase – up just over $6 to about $68.
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