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Still Sierra Pacific Powerful
by Andrew Barbano
Jan 16, 2011 | 2565 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
We coulda been contenders. In 1980, future Sen. Randolph Townsend, my wife Betty and I trooped to Winnemucca and Elko to convince local governments to buy the CP National utility system. Sierra Pacific Power campaigned the old fashioned way — hosting steak fries and schmoozing the hicks into endorsing SPP acquisition. They wouldn’t even listen when eminent economist Dr. David Schwartz convincingly presented the case for hooking into the public power grid. Large swaths of rural Nevada have long enjoyed cheap power through the Rural Electrification Adminis-tration, a relic of that communist Obama’s pinko predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt.

The barbecues worked and today the Silver State suffers the highest residential utility rates in the mountain west.

A decade ago, Sen. Joe Neal, D-N. Las Vegas, pushed for public takeover of Gomorrah South’s Nevada Power. An advisory question on the November 2002 ballot showed 58 percent in favor. Southern Nevada Water Authority directors voted to offer $3.2 billion earlier that year.

Never happened. Predatory Sierra Pacific gobbled up its larger southern counterpart and morphed into NV Energy. In 2009, they reported record profits of $182.9 million and scored an additional $134 million in federal stimulus money while cutting jobs, closing all but one customer service office statewide, hiring out-of-state workers, screwing over employees and retirees.

Compounding the confounding, Public Utilities Commission Chairman Sam Thompson just resigned. Insiders say he was a rarity — a pretty fair guy on a body stocked by the last two Republican governors with people like them. Gov. Dudley Do-Right hisself was a former utility CEO. New Gov. Sandoval has conflicts of interest up the kazoo.

No wonder that the most recent of ongoing consumer surveys portrays one very pissed off electorate.

Last month, IBEW Local 1245/AFL-CIO, which has represented the utility’s workers since the Truman administration, conducted a poll of 1,000 likely voters. It found 82 percent supporting a plan to form a “citizen utility board” to represent ratepayers before the PUC. Just 10 percent opposed.

The Nevada consumer advocate’s office has been watered down since Townsend, my wife and I lobbied it into existence in 1981. The small staff has been burdened with non-utility duties in addition to going up against a stacked PUC. At minimum, Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto needs to ramp up her vaunted PR machine to better inform and involve the public which apparently doesn’t know that the consumer advocate exists.

She has a golden opportunity in an upcoming hearing. The union asked the commission to review dangerous understaffing statewide. Surprisingly, the PUC agreed. The consumer advocate should intervene.

The survey also found strong support for requiring shareholder approval of top executive pay and creation of a public utility agency for electricity and gas services similar to northern and southern water providers. Somewhere, Joe Neal is laughing.

Stockholder salary approval was supported by 63 percent, 21 opposed. Creation of a publicly owned utility was supported by 54 percent, 18 opposed. I wonder how Elko feels these days. The union is reviewing bringing these issues before the voters via petition.

The Barbwire has an exclusive copy of the findings and more analysis which will be posted with the web edition of this column at NevadaLabor.com.

Union spokesman Eric Wolfe may be contacted at 415-564-4410 or 925-285-9059. I could not reach current consumer advocate Eric Witkowski, 702-486-3579. Stay tuned.

Remembering

my daughters

On Jan. 16, 1959, two babies were born. They became sisters in both life and death. Debra Joyce Donlevy (Carson High ‘77) was born to my future wife in Enid, Okla. Donna Leslie Cline was probably born in Phoenix, Ariz., where they met in 1978 and decided to drive to the Nevada capital that March. They never made it. A rollover accident near Gabbs seriously injured both. Debbie died enroute to Reno after a quack doctor who had been run out of Canada failed to treat her at Hawthorne’s Mt. Grant Hospital.

Donna was left a paraplegic. She became a news anchor first in Arizona, then in Las Vegas where she became Miss Wheelchair Nevada and Miss Wheelchair America. She helped launch a disability cable network and lived her few remaining years in Texas, where she won the prestigious Barbara Jordan Award. Donna died in 1999.

In 2006, former Tribune reporter Steve Timko was part of a Reno Gazette-Journal team that exposed the inadequacy of rural Nevada emergency medical care. The killer series hit me hard. It showed that after three decades, nothing much had changed. You travel at your own risk in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream. If you get sick or injured, support remains dangerously weak.

Donna is buried in Texas. Debbie lies beside her mom in Carson City.

While breath abides in my body, I will keep telling the story of my girls whose lives were cut in twain by Mother Nevada’s harshness. They would now be 52 and probably grandmothers. Alas and alack, what might have been.

Veteran’s affair

Longtime local public media producer Laurice Johnson hosts a benefit for Vietnam vet author Rick Macauley, a UNR journalism graduate. It starts at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the VFW Hall, 255 Burris at Baker Lane behind Reno’s Moana Pool. Details: 707-815-4146, e-mail livenowtv@gmail.com.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.

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