Pirate Laureate of the High Desert Outback of the American Dream


Hold onto your wallet when you hear happy talk

Expanded from the 8-6-2000 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 1-4-2014

The good news was much ballyhooed. Sierra Pacific Power made too much money last year and is now refunding $9 million in the form of slightly lower bills.

The bad news was buried. For the first time in decades, if not ever, the company will be allowed to raise rates on a monthly basis.

Whatever happened to all those great pronouncements that SPP and its southern Nevada subsidiary, Nevada Power, would freeze rates till 2003?


In plainer parlance, we're screwed.

This all goes back a few years when Gomorrah South casino mogul and publicly-financed art connoiseur Steve Wynn put a pencil to his power bill.

He reasoned that if he could drop out of the public power grid and build his own generation facility, he could save money. For once, he couldn't get the legislature to see it his way.

That hasn't stopped the gambling-industrial complex from engineering another huge cost shift onto the backs of the ratepayers.

It's all based on clever accounting. On paper, it's cheaper to drop one power line at John Ascuaga's Nugget than it is to Aunt Tillie's place.

This view of the world is a clever fraud. The cost of one kilowatt-hour is the cost of one kilowatt-hour.

The subdividing of power bills by creative accountants has evolved into another way to force the worker bees to subsidize their overlords.

"Deregulation" was rammed through the Nevada Legislature with little research or comment. It was sold as emergency legislation because of actions by California.

Well, the results from the Golden State are coming in. Power rates in San Diego have doubled in the past several months. The Bay Area recently endured electricity cutoffs to thousands of homes because of deregulated undercapacity.

None of this could have happened without the full cooperation of the governments we empower to protect us.

Nevada's heaviest hitter on utility issues is Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno. My old friend RJT has proven politically invulnerable for two decades because of his well-cultivated reputation as a consumer crusader. I should know. I created that image more than 20 years ago when he was a populist Democrat.

Since his election 1982, he has turned against the small folks who had faith in him.

When he announced his party switch in 1985, he delivered what amounted to a public apology to the state's utilities.

A few years ago, he wrote a guest editorial for the Reno Gazette-Journal in which he stated as fact that it costs less to serve large utility users than it does households. It made me sick. He and I went to the same consumer seminars and learned the fraudulence of that thinking.

Now, after secret meetings involving state officials and major casinos, your bills will be skyrocketing once again. Even the mining industry is grumbling because it has had no seat at the table. [2013 UPDATE: Apple's $89 million corporate welfare deal, the largest in Nevada history, again intimidates regulators into keeping the public out of the public's business. Déjà vu all over again.]

  Whatever consumer protection Townsend once worked for at the state level has been effectively neutered.

  Jon Wellinghoff, who once served as the state's first consumer advocate, last year departed as chief counsel of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission under questionable circumstances. Press reports theorized Wellinghoff's pro-consumer stances forced him out.

Townsend's 1980 initiative petition and financial support forced the 1981 Legislature to create the consumer advocate's office in 1981. Over the past two decades, it saved millions for the ratepayers and made the state's utilities more efficient companies.

By 1999, the white knight was talking backwards, leading the charge to restructure both the PUC and the consumer advocate functions to the detriment of small consumers.

As I warned last year, under deregulation, county property tax revenues will be seriously hurt because the way we've always taxed utilities will change. You and I will again pay more to make up the difference.

The big casinos will now get their way while we get stuck with the bill. Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, outfront alone as usual, has requested a bill draft to undo to damage.

HOT AUGUST TAX. If you're interested in signing Sen. Neal's petition to raise Nevada's world-low gross gaming tax, show up at the Victorian Square Farmers' Market in downtown Sparks this Thursday from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. You can also pick up petitions to circulate. Call (775) 333-0955 for information.

ADIOS, JUD. Former Reno City Councilman Jud Allen died last Friday at age 82. For most of his career, he acted as a stereotypical Hollywood-style PR man. Jud not only headed the Reno-Sparks chamber for many years, he basically re-invented it from scratch beginning in 1959.

As Allen was retiring from the chamber, he ran for mayor of Reno in 1983. He got shellacked by Pete Sferrazza, who turned Jud's support of the proposed Centennial Plaza Hotel into a symbol of uncontrolled growth.

Just before the election, Jud gave a speech to a service organization entitled "If you ever feel like running for office, lie down under a tree until the feeling goes away."

It didn't. He ran for Reno city council and won in 1987. Freed by retirement from his previous strictures, Jud became a forceful and impressive advocate. He flew in the face of the downtown big boys, advocating development of "Reno on the River" by taking advantage of the crown jewel of the valley.

Time proved him correct on the Centennial Plaza. A major resort across from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center would have made us a world-class destination. Instead, today we are non-competitive. Tax-draining, polluting shopping centers surround a moribund convention center about to be largely replaced by an extravagant new facility downtown. We should have listened.

Rest in peace, Jud. You did good.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News 2000 | Sen. Joe Neal
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copyright © 2000, 2013, 2014 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 31-year Nevadan, member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past four years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.

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