Report: Utility rates up sharply in past 30 years

CARSON CITY — Oh for the good old days of cheap electricity.

A report prepared for a legislative committee on utility rates over the past nearly 30 years shows what most consumers already know. It costs a lot more today to turn on the lights and cool the house than it did just three decades ago.

The report prepared by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission shows that the average monthly bill for a Nevada Power Co. customer using 1,200 kilowatts per month in 1985 was $67.15. That included a customer charge of $3.50 and a total rate of 0.05304 per kilowatt hour.

By 1995, that monthly bill climbed to $78.75, including a $5 customer charge and a total rate of 0.06146 per kilowatt hour.

Flash forward to 2014, and the monthly bill now totals $160.96 for that average use of 1,200 kilowatt hours per month, including a $10 customer charge and a total rate of 0.12580 per kilowatt hour.

The information comes as the PUC on Tuesday will hold a consumer session on NV Energy’s latest general rate filing. NV Energy operates as Nevada Power in Southern Nevada.

But the latest rate filing may likely be viewed by consumers as good news for a change.

The general rate request filed May 2 reflects one of the smallest increases in a decade.

If approved by the commission, the overall rate increase for all classes of customers would be 0.9 percent and would take effect Jan. 1.

The result would be about a 1.85 percent increase, or $2.82 a month, for a residential customer using 1,136 kilowatts a month.

The last rate increase approved for the company was 8.26 percent.

The filing does include an increase in the customer charge from $10 to $15.25 a month, a more than 50 percent increase that concerns Nevada Consumer Advocate Eric Witkoski because of the effect on low-income power customers.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, a member of the Energy Committee, said climbing rates over the past three decades show why it is important to have a clear idea ahead of time of the cost of new programs such as net metering, where homeowners install solar panels to reduce their bills.

A report recently submitted to the PUC said there are no significant costs going forward to nonparticipating ratepayers from homeowners who install rooftop solar, although it noted there was a “significant cost shift” to nonparticipating customers prior to 2014.

“At our house it runs $600 to $800 a month for power,” Kirkpatrick said. “For some people it takes the place of putting food on the table. It is something we have to be mindful of, especially for our most vulnerable residents.”

Kirkpatrick said it will be important to watch what happens with rates given the 2013 merger of NV Energy with Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

“In my conversations with them they are very supportive of keeping rates low,” she said. “Of doing the right thing.”

The consumer session on the general rate increase will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Hearing Room A of the PUC at 9075 West Diablo Drive, Suite 250, in Las Vegas.

Hearings on the application will begin Aug. 26 at 10 a.m.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.