The Ely Times
Several supporters of the Energy Choice Initiative held a recent roundtable in Ely, with a select group of local residents that included county commissioners, a local resident and several staff members from Mt. Wheeler Power Co.
Ryan Cherry, a consultant with SB Strategies, explained to the group the language in the amendment to the constitution. Cherry said, “It takes away the utilities and in its place it provides rates for every Nevadan across the rate classes. It requires that the rules and regulations are established by 2023.”
Cherry went on to explain that they understood that White Pine is a co-op, but in three years, based on the rates between 2015-2017, it came to their attention that NV Energy over earned from rate payers.
Cherry reported NV Energy over earning $232 million.
“A lot of this is driven by this, we have senior. citizens. We are trying to open up the ability for people to have the same choices that industrial customers have. Residential customers can’t exit the service territory. This is what this whole initiative is about,” Cherry said .
Kevin Robison, CEO of Mt. Wheeler Power, asked the question, “Ryan, why didn’t you just attempt to go back and change the 704 language to include residential customers?”
Sam Castor, executive vice president with Switch, jumped in to explain how NV Energy makes the largest amount of contributions every legislative session, “In some years, there are more lobbyists than legislatures,” Castor said.
Robison said. “That’s the crux of the whole issue to us, it’s a constitutional amendment, this should have never been in the constitutional amendment.”
Castor explained how this process began in 2014 when Switch decided they didn’t want to be a NV Energy customer. Castor said they were told they could leave, they spent a million dollars in legall fees and then were told that they couldn’t leave unless they paid $27 million to opt out from NV Energy as their power source.
“Switch grew at a time when the economy was in the toilet and we went and found a strand of assets of NV Energy that were not being utilized and everybody was paying for and we said we’ll build our data centers right there and we’ll benefit the surrounding area, and even though we did that, and even though we can prove that some of these over earnings are directly our growth and our profit we gave back to NV Energy, they said you know what, you have to pay $27 million to leave,” Castor said. “It was then that SWITCH decided to file suit against the State of Nevada.”
Castor went on, to explain their efforts. “The only way we can fix this is if we very carefully created some bumper lanes on how this would work. This doesn’t say how it should happen, this is just you can’t run a monopoly. The number one thing I wanted to make sure how valuable co-ops were. Did we do a good job with that? Robison answered ‘no,’” Castor said. “I think we could have done a better job with that.”
Donna Bath who was at the roundtable speaking as a local resident, said, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I wish this conversation would have been held sooner. One of my personal frustrations working across Nevada is these things happen without asking rural Nevada.
“If these conversations, and woulda coulda, shoulda, would have happened two or three years ago, when you were deciding to do this, I don’t think we would be where we are. I’m a consumer and there is no out. White Pine County does not have a lobbyist. I appreciate you coming, but it’s to much too little too late.”
Castor went on to explain to the group that they we’re willing to be a voice for White Pine in the Legislature.
“Co-ops are the model, they are the poster child of how this should work,” he said. “The reason co-ops don’t have significant over rates because your members are your owners, and your owners are your members. What you do is about doing things together. That’s the way power should work. Why would we mess with this when it’s already working?”
The issue would be that Mt. Wheeler power rates are extremely low, and if passed, the differentiation in rates would be noticeable.
White Pine County Commissioner Richard Howe expressed his concerns to the group, “My biggest deal is that we become a drop in the bucket. Our co-op will be smothered by you, and then we would have more recourse and we would be this tiny little place, and that to me is my biggest fear. We have a great co-op, this group, this power company, their our volunteers, they are the center of our community.”
Shellie Watts, member services and HR manager with Mt. Wheeler Power, said, “This is one of my 4,600 members speaking on behalf of the cooperative and we need to protect not just him, but all 4,600 members. We see SWITCH up here, and we see the little co-op here, and there are my 4,600 members that are going to get swallowed up in this hole.”
County Commissioner Shane Bybee also voiced his concerns with this initiative, explaining to the energy initiative group that many of the members recently received a check from Mt. Wheeler for their years of service. Watts, explained how Mt. Wheeler recently returned over a million dollars to their members.
“We just want to be left alone, but this isn’t going to afford us that opportunity, this is going to force us to be into that market, and be that small player at the big table,” Bybee said.
Castor chimed in by saying he didn’t think so, and Robison quickly spoke up.
“I think Sam that is where you’re incorrect, and I think the legal term you used, I don’t remember when you talk about a monopoly,” Castor said. “….Our certificate of public convenience is exactly that, it gives us a defined service territory to another problem not only in Nevada, but Utah. We don’t want to go outside our service territory. This language tells us, June 30, 2023, we stop doing business as a co-op, July 1 we have to reinvent ourselves.”
Discussion went back and forth between Castor and Robison and it was clear that there was a difference of opinion in what the amendment would do.
“Everything we are talking about is hope for an effective law, which we haven’t been able to get through without a constitutional amendment and then all of a sudden it binds all of us to this, and drags all of us into this,”Bybee said. “And I’m sorry but I just don’t have that much faith in our legislature. As a rural Nevadan, we have been pushed away and left out too many times.”
Cherry stepped in to reiterate what he believe Question 3 if passed would do. In Cherry’s perspective he explained that it would take away NV Energy’s megaflow in the legislature, “All of a sudden counties, the rural co-ops, people who want to come in and create all these choices, you’d have an equal voice in the legislature. You’ll have equal voices at the legislature, right now you don’t.”
Bybee continued to express his concern that he lacked faith in this process. Bath also, expressing her concerns as a White Pine resident and member of Mt. Wheeler Power. She said, “If you remove NV Energy from the equation, there not there any more were still not on a equal plane with rural Nevada. And that’s the problem, and it’s constitutional. If somebody truly cared and wanted to do this right, we’d have a do-over.”
Castor came out and spoke to the group saying that if Question 3 passes, they still would come back to White Pine and talk to the residents, and if it didn’t pass, they would still return to White Pine and talk with the residents.
“Either way, we fully recognize you have to be part of the conversation,” he said. “You do have the most competitive pricing in the state, we don’t want to mess with that, we need to figure out a way to replicate it, we don’t want to take it away.
“Let’s talk about legislature, you guys can vote however you are going to vote, but let’s put legislature in front of you that shows you where were at, and if it passes, let’s champion that, if it doesn’t help us champion it.”
Bybee told Castor, “If they had listened you, the way they had listened to you, you wouldn’t have had o put it on the ballot.”
Much of the conversation by the people at the table expressed that they felt like it was a turf war between Switch and NV Energy.
Switch, founded in 2000, has several patented data centers globally. They are recognized for their revoluntionary high-density design, superscale cloud campus, unparalleled telecommunications services.
The Energy Choice Initiative backing a ballot initiative that would end NV Energy’s control over the energy supply and primarily is funded by the Las Vegas Sands, Switch and MGM resorts in other proceedings
Robinson said, “The reason we are so passionate is because of the work that we have done. We have developed something pretty special, it’s member based, and to your point, that’s the model.
Question 3 is a proposed state constitutional amendment that if passed would allow consumers to pick their own power provider by 2023. Mt Wheeler is greatly opposed. NV Energy provides 90 percent of Nevada’s power.