Power woes fueling petition drive

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What started as a rallying cry for a neighborhood of disgruntled electricity customers in Palomino Valley has turned into a major movement bent on reversing the upward trend of Northern Nevada power rates.

Reno business owner Wanda Wright has seen such an overwhelming response to her homespun petition advocating a "No" vote on a Sierra Pacific Power Co. rate hike request that she has lost count of the signers.

"I'd say I have more than 3,000 signatures in Reno; that doesn't count Carson City," she said. "I have two phones, two ears and two hands. It's all I can do to keep up with the response."

At a public hearing sponsored by Sierra Pacific Power at Mendive Middle School in Sparks on Monday, Wright said she easily collected 1,000 signatures from fed-up power customers.

"I had a guy drop off 20 pages" of signatures, she said. "It was a tearjerker last night to see some of these seniors get up and tell the commission how they have had to go without their prescriptions because of the utility costs."

In Carson City, local firebrand Rheba Montrose has been hitting the streets placing copies of the petition at area businesses and in the hands of residents. She said she has recruited as many as two dozen to sign the petition and pass copies to friends and customers.

"I've been going crazy delivering these things," she said Tuesday. "I've had six calls in the last two hours.

"People are so upset and mad, they feel they are being taken advantage of."

Wright said she hopes to collect at least 10,000 signatures to give to the state's public utilities commission as it considers two rate hike requests made by Sierra Pacific Power in November and January.

If the rate hikes are approved, the general rate would go up by 4 percent on average in Northern Nevada, while the fuel and purchased power portion of bills would rise by nearly 10 percent, according to company statistics.

Sierra Pacific said it needs to raise rates to recoup costs incurred last summer when wholesale prices spiked, and the company took on high-rate contracts that continue today. The proposed rate changes would provide the company $28 million for a general rate increase over a three-year period, and $205 million for fuel and purchased power over six years.

Sixty-eight-year-old Troy Rogers said he responded to the petition because a disability -- and a fixed income of $800 -- make his utility bills nearly impossible to manage, he said.

"I went over (to Rheba Montrose's house) to sign the petition, and I ended up taking a couple sheets with me," he said. "It's been all I can afford to pay my bills.

"Eight-hundred dollars a month is not much to live on, especially when you have to buy groceries and pay rent. It's getting to where ordinary people just cannot pay their bills."

The Public Utilities Commission is set to start considering the increases when it meets April 8. The company has asked the commission to make the increases effective June 1. In the capital area, meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 in commission hearing room A, located at 1150 East William Street, and 6 p.m. March 4 at the Carson Valley Inn.

Wright has set up a hot line at her Reno store at 327-4677. Montrose can be reached at 841-4285.

Petition locations and contacts:

Wanda Wright, Reno, 327-4677

Rheba Montrose, Carson City, 841-4285

Lamplighter's Lounge, 260 W. Winnie Lane

Elaine and Dolores, off Airport Road, 885-2891

Capital Alternator and Starter Supply, 3444 Centennial Park Drive.

Carol and Andy Voge, Gardnerville, 782-6544

Dayton Market, 670 Highway 50 East, Dayton

Carol Smith, Yerington, 463-9331


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