After a spat between Nevada’s consumer advocate agency and its largest electric utility, state regulators ruled that utility sponsorship deals should be more transparent and the consumer advocate breached confidentiality.
The Public Utilities Commission issued an order on Tuesday that puts a dispute to rest between the Bureau of Consumer Protection and NV Energy over the utility’s attempt to keep certain financial information related to sponsorship deals out of the public eye.
The disagreement between NV Energy and the BCP started, when David Chairez, the regulatory manager for the bureau, filed testimony that stated NV Energy wanted to recoup from customers just under $200,000 in sponsorship costs over deals with the Las Vegas Ballpark, the Henderson Silver Knights, Allegiant Stadium and the Clark County Fair and Rodeo and that the sponsorship deals also netted the utility perks such as VIP tickets and special merchandise. NV Energy contended this information was confidential and shouldn’t be included in public testimony.
NV Energy said those sponsorship costs were related to its PowerShift programs, which is a set of programs designed to reduce customers’ energy costs, and that those costs should remain confidential since the original sponsorship agreements with the utility and the different organizations had confidentiality agreements and that making this information public could harm the utility in making similar deals in the future.
“Public disclosure of this information not only harms (NV Energy) but also the company’s customers who entered into these contracts upon confidentiality provisions,” said Marie Steele, the vice president of integrated energy services for NV Energy, in filed testimony.
NV Energy did withdraw requests to recover $50,000 in sponsorship costs to Allegiant Stadium and $10,000 in costs to the Clark County Fair Rodeo since the information provided on energy conservation as a result of the sponsorships were “limited in nature,” according to Steele’s testimony.
The company stands by the $62,500 for sponsorship costs with the Henderson Silver Knights and $75,000 in sponsorship costs with Las Vegas Ballpark since the sponsorships were one facet of an overall marketing strategy for PowerShift programs and the crowds at the events, as these sponsorships were 90 percent local to Southern Nevada, according to Steele’s testimony.
The BCP said this material shouldn’t be confidential since it includes costs the utility is trying to recover from ratepayers and the terms of the sponsorship agreements didn’t include any trade secrets.
The PUC agreed mostly with the BCP in an order, which was approved unanimously at a PUC meeting on Sept. 12, that sponsorship costs around the PowerShift programs should be public since NV Energy is seeking to recover some of these costs from customers.
“These sponsorship agreements include, among other things, the terms under which ratepayer funds will be used to promote energy efficiency and conservation programs approved by the Commission,” the PUC order said. “The Commission finds nothing in these sponsorship agreements that could be characterized as a trade secret or confidential commercial information pursuant to Nevada law.”
The PUC directed that NV Energy refile certain information to make it public on its sponsorship deals with the commission. NV Energy provided a statement saying it would review what next steps it needs to take as a result of this PUC order.
“We appreciate the seriousness in which the Public Utilities Commission treated this matter,” said Meghin Delaney, the media relations manager for NV Energy.
Although the PUC sided largely with the BCP on what information should be made public on sponsorship deals, it did also find the BCP violated an agreement with NV Energy about how what information was confidential and how confidential information should be challenged. Due to the breach of confidentiality the PUC directed that staff for the BCP who are is involved with public utilities will be required to take a class on confidentiality and ethics.