Guinn studying legislative intent on power deregulation issue

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Gov. Kenny Guinn says he'll study transcripts of 1999 legislative hearings to learn if a so-called ''global settlement'' allowing periodic increases in Nevadans' electric rates is legal.

''I don't want to do something that violates the law,'' Guinn said after meeting Wednesday with Don Soderberg, just reappointed as chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission.

The Republican governor must decide whether to open the market to competition among electric companies starting Nov. 1, in line with the agreement approved on a 2-1 PUC vote.

A key part of the settlement lets Nevada Power Co. and Sierra Pacific Power Co. boost rates every 45 days to recover higher costs of fuel and purchased power.

''It's a complex issue,'' said Guinn, a former president of Southwest Gas Corp. ''I'm trying to teach myself.''

Democratic legislative leaders Tuesday urged Guinn to delay deregulation until there are safeguards to protect consumers. They added rate increases could be as high as 64 percent by February 2003 in southern Nevada.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, has advocated that the PUC give prior approval before either of the utilities can impose new rates.

The ''global agreement'', negotiated by the two utilities, state Consumer Advocate Tim Hay, major Nevada casinos and the PUC staff, allows the cost-recovery rate hikes to go into effect without any prior approval.

The governor said Soderberg didn't make any recommendation whether deregulation should go forward on Nov. 1. At that time, big casinos and the water district in Las Vegas could shop around for alternate suppliers and possible savings. The market opening for homeowners wouldn't be until September 2001.

Democratic leaders, including Titus, Assembly Majority Leader Richard Perkins, D-Henderson and Assistant Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, maintain the 1999 law restricted rate increases, and question whether the PUC can disregard that law.

The 1999 law allowed Nevada Power one more rate increase to recover back fuel costs before deregulation kicked in. The utility first asked for about a 5 percent increase and then boosted that to 15 percent. The application was denied by the PUC.

Suits were filed to force the state to approve the rate increase and to have the deregulation law declared invalid. But the lawsuits were dropped when the ''global settlement'' gave the two utilities the chance to impose higher rates without prior approval every time their fuel costs went up.


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