Gas and electric rates going up

Carson City gas bills will increase 30 percent after the state Public Utilities Commission approved on Thursday a Southwest Gas request to pass through gas costs to cutsomers. The commission bumped electric rates up as well.

Statewide, Southwest Gas won permission for a rate increase that will generate more than $52.3 million to cover soaring prices the utility has to pay suppliers. Southwest Gas customers in Western Nevada will pay $15.9 million more. A Southwest official said the average residential bill will rise about 30 percent to $95.68 in the Carson City area.

But the majority of the added revenue will come from Southern Nevada customers - $36.4 million. The average Las Vegas residential bill will increase 23.8 percent to $54.24.

This is the second gas increase approved in three months for Southwest. The PUC approved a 9.2 percent increase totaling $19.8 million in October.

"Natural gas prices have skyrocketed this winter," said Southwest's Roger Montgomery.

He said Southwest's costs are half-again what they were in September.

And the problem isn't unique to Southwest. Sierra Pacific gas customers will see an increase of nearly 35 percent.

Commission member Richard McIntire pointed out that Thursday's vote allows the rates to go up before the actual rate cases are processed to keep the utility companies from running in the red like some Southern California utilities.

Chairman Don Soderberg agreed, saying they need to pass the gas costs on to customers now because, six months from now the increase plus back interest could force an "astronomical" hike and endanger the survival of the utilities.

Those increases will be accompanied by smaller increases in electric rates at both ends of the state.

For Western Nevada customers of Sierra Pacific Power, that will be a 1 percent increase in electric rates. While that is a much smaller hike, it's a pass-through increase both Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Power are allowed to apply for every month to offset rising prices they must pay for the gas they use to generate electricity. Sierra Pacific's gas costs have gone up 111 percent over the past year while Nevada Power's have risen 76 percent. Nevada Power's electric rates will also rise just over 1 percent.

For Sierra Pacific customers, this is the second monthly electric increase. For Nevada Power, Thursday's increase was the fourth monthly hike.

McIntire said no one wants to approve electric rate increases but that, as with the residential gas rates, it's more responsible to do it in increments than to wait and hit consumers with a huge increase and interest charges later.

"Nobody likes to see rates go up but it's a heck of a lot better than not knowing whether the lights will go on," he said referring to brown-outs experienced in parts of California last month.

Finally, the commission gave Naniwa Energy the go-ahead for its proposed TRI-Center Power Plant project in Storey County east of Reno.

"This is the solution," said Soderberg referring to the power supply shortage. "Building more generation and getting it online quickly."

Company officials want to get the 360 megawatt powerplant online later this year.


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