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September 1, 2014

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State PUC approves budget request

The state Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday approved its budget request for fiscal years 2006 and 2007, including $1.3 million for a new electronic filing and records management system.

The PUC's request also includes over the two years $854,000 for expert consultants to assist in examining utility rate cases, $416,000 for computers and software, $538,000 to implement new state and federal requirements for gas pipeline safety and $130,500 for salary adjustments.

The commission released only specific spending highlights of the request, keeping the majority of the request, including the total dollar amount, confidential until Gov. Kenny Guinn releases it in October. The PUC's current two-year budget is about $25 million.

In an extensive presentation on the filing and records management system, PUC Secretary Crystal Jackson said the upgrades were needed to improve efficiency and better serve customers. The new system would replace the existing process of making utility filings in person and with paper copies, a inefficient method that drives up administrative costs, Jackson said.

"The (existing) systems themselves encourage the creation and maintenance of redundant information," she said.

The system also would give the public 24-hour access to all utility filings involving rate and service changes through online access. Jackson added that similar systems are in place at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state and federal courts.

Commissioner Adriana Escobar Chanos said the move was "a great step into the future."

The budget proposal was unanimously approved by the three-member commission.

Also approved on Wednesday was Nevada Power Co.'s proposal to launch a trial prepaid electricity plan.

Earlier this year, the company asked the PUC to approve the trial program, which involves the installation of 100 prepaid power meters that would allow consumers to charge "smart cards" with between $1 and $250. The card would then be inserted in an in-home box that tracks the amount of cash left on the card and estimated days left based on average kilowatt hour usage.

The trial will include the initial initiation of prepaid service to 50 Nevada Power employees. The program will then be extended to 50 non-employees. The approval was given -- following a series of questions from Commission Carl Linvill -- with the caveat that the utility will devise a plan to study conservation benefits before rolling prepaid meters out to non-employee customers.

The utility also must devise a mechanism to reach with the non-employee pool of participants customers that would be prone to past-due bills. That mechanism was necessary, Linvill said, since utility economist Gene Williams said during the meeting that the primary goal or prepaid meters is to reduce past-due bills.

Williams also said that the goal of the initial trial was to work out software bugs not research the impact of reducing arrearages.

In testimony filed prior to the meeting, the state Bureau of Consumer Protection said it was concerned that the utility may attempt to push low-income customers to prepaid power. PUC Chairman Don Soderberg said on Wednesday, however, that with only a trial being approved such concerns "are not applicable."

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