Nevada moves closer to deregulation

LAS VEGAS - A local official is raising questions about an agreement that settles utility rate cases and sets dates for opening Nevada to electric power competition.

Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera expressed concern Thursday about the settlement, endorsed by the state Public Utilities Commission, noting that it lets Nevada Power file monthly requests to adjust rates.

The Las Vegas-based utility already has filed its first such rate hike request, for 1.3 percent. That follows a $48 million rate increase that was part of the agreement, boosting residential bills by 4.7 percent.

Herrera, a Democrat and former state legislator, said he's worried about the effect that continuing rate increases may have on Nevada residents, including retired people on fixed incomes.

Herrera also said there's a perception that the rate cases and deregulation issues weren't settled openly. He referred to closed-door meetings in which the state consumer advocate, PUC staff, utilities and major power customers negotiated the agreement on deregulation and rate issues.

Under the deal, the state will start deregulating its power industry Nov. 1 when providers can compete for large power users' business. Deregulation for residential users will be phased beginning in September 2001.

At a PUC meeting Thursday, the parent company of Nevada Power withdrew its requests for reconsideration of all but two issues in a contested decision on distribution line rates - the rates the company will charge competitors to use its transmission lines.

But the utility retained its right to seek changes in depreciation rates for power plants that Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific are auctioning because of the two companies' merger last year.

The PUC also adopted a proposed regulation that will implement a state law requiring electric utilities and future competitive retailers to obtain a small part of their electricity from renewable resources.

The electric companies must obtain two-tenths of 1 percent of the power they sell from renewable sources, including solar power. The minimum is allowed to increase every two years until it reaches 1 percent.


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