Beware of blackouts

Shane Piccinini is the chair of the Washoe County Democratic Party.

Nevada’s first-ever rolling blackouts hit Las Vegas earlier this month. They are a sure sign that President Bush and Gov. Kenny Guinn’s energy policies are fatally flawed.

California has managed to avoid blackouts for over a month. It helps that California Gov. Gray Davis has the ability to purchase power on the open market and negotiate long-term contacts with energy producers. But by using aggressive conservation methods, Californians have reduced power consumption by 12 percent. These are the same conservation measures Vice President Richard Cheney rejected, favoring more exploitation of fossil fuels.

Sierra Pacific Resources blames the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s recent price caps for the Las Vegas blackout. With the caps in effect, they say, power-generating companies aren’t confident about recovering costs, so they won’t sell power to utility companies. But it is difficult to fathom, based on the formula the FERC uses to calculate the price caps, why generating companies would take a loss. We are left with no choice but to believe most generating companies still intend to gouge the consumer for higher profits and higher returns for the stockholders.

Also, though several of Nevada Power’s plants were offline for maintenance for several days, Nevada Power issued no warning before the blackouts, so consumers were never given the opportunity to conserve.

Nevada lawmakers could, during the last legislative session, have protected Nevada consumers and avoided the same gouging by utility companies. Unfortunately, the Assembly Republicans choose to side with the lobbyists of the energy companies and passed legislation that would allow the state’s biggest power consumers to opt out of the state’s power grids and purchase electricity on the open market. The result of this action will guarantee higher rates for the rest of us, who were excluded from opting out of the market. The fewer consumers in the grid, the more expensive power will become.

Furthermore, Guinn has packed the Public Utilities Commission with appointees who have yet to meet a rate hike they didn’t like. Bush is trying to do the same with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but his efforts are going much slower because of the confirmation process.

If Bush and Guinn were serious about helping consumers, they’d back conservation measures, including offering rebates to entice consumers to replace their aging appliances with more efficient ones. They would urge the FERC to monitor the costs of energy per kilowatt-hour and instate a windfall profits tax on companies who repeatedly gouge consumers. Finally, they would offer meaningful incentives to develop renewable energy sources. Nevada has plenty of solar and wind energy that could be harnessed with no negative impacts on our environment.

To see how the nation’s larger energy producers have engaged in price gouging last year, you only need look at the high profits posted during the peak of the rolling blackouts in California. Guinn and Bush must take the energy crisis seriously before people start living in the dark because they can no longer afford their utility bills.