Nevada Regulators To Evaluate Investment In Utility

Attorneys for the Public Utilities Commission will seek to determine whether a New York investment company should have obtained commission approval before buying one-quarter of Nevada-based Sierra Pacific Resources' shares.

The PUC is reacting to a report that Horizon Asset Management of
New York owned 27 percent of Sierra Pacific Resources, the Nevada
electric utility company, as of Sept. 30.

"The 27 percent is accurate," PUC spokesman Sean Sever said Wednesday.

The commission will try to decide whether the commission has jurisdiction to review Horizon's stock ownership based on a state law dealing with mergers and acquisitions of public utilities.

The state law says an investor needs PUC approval before acquiring more than 25 percent of the outstanding shares of a utility.

Failure to obtain regulatory approval voids the transactions, but it's unclear what that means in the case of the purchase of shares in a public company.

State consumer advocate Eric Witkoski said the purchases should be studied to determine whether Horizon Asset Management's holdings of Sierra Pacific Resources are affected by the state law.

Sierra Pacific Resources spokesman Adam Grant declined to comment on the deal, saying it's against company policy "to discuss investment decisions made by those investing in our company."

Sierra is the holding company for Nevada Power Co., the electric utility serving southern Nevada, and Sierra Pacific Power Co., the electric and gas utility serving northern Nevada.

The Nevada Clean Energy Campaign cited the report on Horizon Asset Management as reason to be concerned that the investment company may be influencing the utility company's decision to pursue development of coal-fired power plants.

Sierra Pacific Resources wants to build the $3.8 billion Ely Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant at Ely, and a related transmission line.

Charles Benjamin, a spokesman for Nevada Clean Energy, said Horizon Asset is pushing the utility to develop the coal-fired plant because the investment company has a 13.5 percent interest in a Chinese utility company that develops and builds coal-fired power plants.