Exec pay soars at Sierra

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Salaries and other compensation for several senior executives at Sierra Pacific Resources more than doubled over five years, exceeding recommendations from an expert
hired by the company, according to the attorney general's Bureau of
Consumer Protection.

The compensation for former CEO and Chairman Walt Higgins, for example, was $4.9 million for the 12 months ending in mid-2007, up
from $1.5 million five years earlier, according to Phil Williamson, an analyst with the bureau.

Williamson analyzed the pay level of utility executives in written testimony filed in a rate case for Sierra Pacific Power Co. of Reno. Las Vegas-based Nevada Power Co., like the Reno company, is a subsidiary of Sierra Pacific Resources, and the same arguments could be raised in a December rate case filing for Nevada Power.

The individuals whose pay was reviewed by Williamson were Higgins, current CEO and President Michael Yackira, Donald "Pat" Shalmy, former corporate senior vice president and president of Nevada Power, and Roberto Denis, senior vice president.

William Rogers, vice president and treasurer at the time of the survey, is a relatively new employee and was in a position with lower overall pay increases.

Yackira got a major promotion in the five years covered by the survey. Otherwise, "we think the positions stayed substantially the same," Williamson said.

Besides Higgins' $4.9 million, the latest pay levels listed by Williamson include $1.9 million for Yackira, $1.4 million apiece for Shalmy and Denis and $373,000 for Rogers.

Tim Eggen, corporate director of human resources at Sierra, said Williamson's calculations were flawed. For example, he said Williamson included moving expenses for executives and stock compensation that Higgins got for performance in past years, and neither of those should be included.

Eggen added that based on Nevada Power's calculations, salaries, excluding Higgins' pay, increased only 5 percent yearly for senior company executives covered in the report. The 5 percent figure doesn't include other types of compensation.

Eric Witkoski, chief of the bureau and state consumer advocate, dismissed Eggen's argument, saying moving expenses and stock awards are part of the total compensation to executives.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)