Sierra Pacific Files For Rate Hike In June

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Sierra Pacific Power Co. wants to raise northern Nevadans' residential electric rates by nearly 10 percent.

Citing growing costs to bring electricity to a growing customer base, Sierra Pacific officials asked state regulators on Monday for the 9.7 percent increase beginning in June.

If approved by the state Public Utilities Commission, the typical residential customer would pay $8.65 more a month, company officials said.

Increases also will be sought for industrial and commercial users, officials said.

The subsidiary of Sierra Pacific Resources, which 18 months ago teetered on financial collapse, first must make its case in public hearings tentatively slated for March.

The increased costs in northern and northeast Nevada are due in part to the connection of 10,000 new electric customers in each of the past two years, President Jeff Ceccarelli said.

"Customer peak demand for electricity has recently been increasing by 4 percent each year," he said.

The utility now has more than 325,000 customers in Nevada and the Sierra.

Sierra Pacific's biennial rate filing, based on operational costs, proposes to defer about one-quarter of the $95 million total increase until June 2005.

Without that, the increase next June would amount to 13.1 percent for Sierra Pacific's more than 325,000 customers.

"We've worked hard to come up with a way to lessen the impact on customers, plus ensure the company is financially capable of continuing to supply the necessary electricity for our rapidly growing area," Ceccarelli said.

He said the utility has spent more than $200 million on infrastructure to keep pace with Northern Nevada's growth. A major portion of that spending is in a new transmission line being built in eastern Nevada, adding 255 megawatts of power to the western end of the state by next spring.

In its last general rate filing two years ago, Sierra Pacific sought an average 2.5 percent rate decrease based on a drop in residential hookup costs.

Tim Hay, state consumer advocate, said Monday he hadn't seen the new filing, but he told the Reno Gazette-Journal he believes the increase is driven in part by Sierra Pacific's ongoing financial difficulties. He cited the relatively calm Western energy markets of the past year, saying the requested rate hike seems too high.

"It appears to place an excessive burden on consumers," Hay said. "It's not small change by any means."