DA urged to investigate after VEA hikes rates by 17%

Customers will see a 17% spike in their energy rates at the beginning of the year following approval of a rate increase by the Valley Electric Association Board of Directors.

“Despite our best efforts to find ways to prolong any further increase, in order to ensure financial stability, the board voted on and approved an energy rate increase for all service types, effective Jan. 1, 2023,” according to a posting on the member-owned co-op’s website. “Valley anticipates that the inflationary impacts driving this rate adjustment will be permanent… We know these increases are hard and we don’t take rate adjustments lightly but this change is necessary to cover our operating expenses and keep the cooperative financially sound.”

VEA says it is looking at a new methodology that could result in a variation of rates, with a “time-of-use” rate structure under consideration.

“This would mean a lower energy charge in most hours and a higher energy rate in a few peak hours. These changes will give members the control over their electric bill by giving them the ability to use more energy when power costs are lower, allowing them to save money. The time-of-use concept centers around shifting household chores such as charging your electric vehicle or running the dishwasher in the middle of the night when possible during periods when energy prices are lower.”

The switch to time-of-use rates is said to be coming at some point in 2023 but no specific month for implementation was named.

As stated by VEA, the average residential power bill will jump about $32 a month, for an overall rate increase of 17.24%. “On your January bill, you will see two separate line items, one for the old kWh rate and then the new kWh rate until the transition is complete,” the co-op noted.

The news of the rate hike, coming just eight months after a jump in the basic service fee, has undoubtedly been greeted with ire by many in the community, including local government officials. Rather than simply lamenting the 17% increase, however, the Nye County Commission has decided to take action, with outgoing commissioner Leo Blundo sponsoring an agenda item to that effect during his last meeting as a board member.

“I asked for this item and thank you staff for getting this on here,” Blundo stated during the Dec. 20 meeting. “The rates are going up and well, I don’t agree with that.”

Blundo said he wanted a better explanation as to why the utility has raised its rates and he felt the public deserved that as well, prompting commissioner Debra Strickland to ask, “Rather than going to a (law)suit, can we consider requesting further information?”

Blundo replied that the county had already attempted that many times in the past but without result.

“At what point, as representatives of the people here, do we stand up and start asking some real pointed questions?” Blundo queried. “I think that’s why it (the agenda item) is framed in this manner. We’ve asked them to come before the board! And they are like, well, you know, it’s a PR issue, they don’t want to, it’s going to be negative… The electric bills are out of control in this town… it’s just a lot, so how much is enough?”

Blundo then made a motion to authorize the Nye County District Attorney’s Office to evaluate the potential that VEA broke what he termed the “social contract” that was created by the co-op’s many public promises during its bid to sell a 230-kilovolt transmission line in 2016.

That sale could only be pushed through with the approval of two-thirds of VEA’s member-owners and the co-op spent many weeks encouraging people to vote on the issue. While doing so, VEA officials touted an array of benefits that member-owners would see following the sale.

These included assurances that the rates would remain stable for a 10-year period, as well as a promise that the utility would donate $5 million and a $5 million parcel of land toward a new community center. Since the sale was approved in 2016, VEA has raised its rates twice, along with increasing its service fee.

Once the DA’s office has finished its evaluation, Blundo motioned for a report to be brought back to the commission which would then decide whether further action is warranted. The motion passed with all in favor.

“I hope that the action we took today is yet another open invitation for VEA to become a part of the process, to be able to come and speak before the board of county commissioners, one of its paying customers, to give reason and justification for these rate increases,” Blundo concluded.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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