Petition getting massive exposure

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A petition drive calling for a "No" vote on a request by Sierra Pacific Power Co. to increase rates by this summer has struck a nerve with thousands of Northern Nevada electricity customers.

The petition, born in the mind of Palomino Valley-resident Wanda Wright last month, has now grown to an estimated 12,000 signatures, she said.

"It's been amazing," she said. "Between all of the signatures that have been gathered, it's hard to find time to count them, but I'd say I have 9,000 signatures, and there are at least another 3,000 signatures in Carson City."

Wright started circulating the petition to her neighbors in Palomino Valley in January when she says bills necessitated a choice between watering her horses, and heating the house. The effort was expanded to her Reno feed store within days, and soon she found herself inundated with word-of-mouth and media-generated inquiries.

Wright installed a second "hot line" to take the overflow telephone calls, and says the stream of mostly senior, disgruntled utility customers has been ceaseless. The petition spilled over to Carson City when Rheba Montrose and other community members and businesses started passing it around.

"I am not convinced that they need to increase these rates," she said. "I just think (Sierra Pacific) have been mismanaging their resources."

The company takes a different line.

Rather than mismanagement, Sierra Pacific says the public outcry against this latest series of rate adjustments has largely been the result of misinformation, according to company spokeswoman Faye Andersen.

"I try to explain to people what has happened with the Western energy crisis," she said of her dealings with unhappy customers. "We have been prudent in our purchases and we do not speculate on power."

She explained that Sierra Pacific anticipates a net increase of 5.2 percent for its residential customers if the rate adjustments applied for in November and February are approved.

Residential customers, she said, would see the lowest increases, while businesses would pay more depending on the type of business. For the proposed 'general rate,' the increases would average approximately 4 percent across all classes of customers. Fuel and purchased-power increases would average approximately 10 percent.

Andersen said the fuel and purchased power portions of customers' bills is money already spent.

"The cost is passed through on a dollar-for-dollar basis," she said. "There is no mark-up for the company."

Similarly, she said, the general rate is limited to the cost of delivering power to customers' houses. This portion of customers' bills has not been adjusted for almost a decade.

Consumer Advocated Tim Hay, chief of the attorney general's bureau of consumer advocacy, disagrees. He said potential problems with accounting at Nevada Power, Sierra Pacific's Southern Nevada counterpart, have given rise to questions about how power was acquired in Northern Nevada during the Western energy crisis. The company has long said it did not speculate on the price of power and overbuy last summer when rates were high.

Hay said Sierra Pacific's rate hike requests need some more scrutiny, but his office, which advises the state's Public Utilities Commission in rate decisions, supports efforts like the one being put together by Wright. The commission is expected to start considering the rate hikes in April.

"I believe she and her group are doing an excellent job raising awareness, especially for the most affected people like seniors and low-income customers," he said. "It's a pretty substantial number of signatures. It's an indication of the level of concern."

Wright said she is looking to have all the petitions back in her hands by the Feb. 25 public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. at the commission's meeting room at 1150 E. William St. To get in touch with Wright call 327-4677.


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