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Power hikes not so bad locally

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

While gas prices are soaring, Truckee residents shouldn’t expect their electricity bills to fly quite as high, according to local providers.

Sierra Pacific Power Company plans to raise power rates for customers in Nevada by an average of 17 percent, but company officials say the price increases won’t apply to customers in California.

Short-term “emergency price increases” as high as 29 percent for the state’s largest energy users are among the biggest rate hikes in the plan filed Wednesday, Jan. 29 with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada. Customer who use minimal amounts of power may not see any rate increases, say officials.

Karl Walquist, spokesman for Sierra Pacific, said rates for their 30,000 customers in California will remain unchanged because of a rate freeze in effect until March 1, 2002 or until the company sells its power generating assets. The ordinance is a condition of the merger between Sierra Pacific Power Company and Nevada Power Company.

“Why? To jump-start competition in Nevada. Otherwise everything owned by one company would make it difficult for competition,” Walquist said Friday.

Meanwhile customers of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District can expect the same power rates in 2001 and for the first few months of 2002.

Assistant General Manager Stephen Hollabaugh said the PUD’s power rates in 2000 were among the lowest in California, and remain there even with the 11 percent price increase projected in the 2001 budget.

In the first electric rate hike since the mid-1980s, the Truckee-Donner PUD was forced to take away the 11 percent rate discount to power customers due to increasing costs from Idaho Power Company and the volatility of power markets.

The PUD entered into price agreements to avoid fluctuations in market prices beginning in 1998. In April 2000 the PUD again entered into fixed rates contracts that extend to the beginning of 2002, narrowly missing the market price explosions later in the year.

As the calendar rolls to 2002, however, negotiations with Idaho Power will expire, and the PUD will have to renegotiate rates.

Hollabaugh does not know where the market will go next, but he suspects rates will increase.

If Sierra Pacific’s comprehensive emergency plan is approved, the plan may raise rates for a typical Nevada customer by approximately $6.37 per month. For residents of Sierra Pacific’s newly acquired Nevada Power Company, rates may increase by $12.63 per month.


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