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November 26, 2014

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Consumer group protests planned closing of utility’s NLV walk-in office

NV Energy Walk-In Service Center

The state Bureau of Consumer Protection wants utilities regulators to stop NV Energy's proposal to close its walk-in service center in North Las Vegas on April 1.

The North Las Vegas location is the last walk-in center operated by NV Energy and its sister Sierra Pacific Power Co. of Reno.

Rob Stillwell of NV Energy said Thursday there were many expanded options for customers to deal with the electric company.

NV Energy says the vast majority – 85 percent – of the payments it receives is either done electronically or sent in by mail. It says payments made at retail outlets, such as grocery stores, account for 13 percent of payments it receives.

The North Las Vegas service center receives less than 1 percent of its customer payments.

The consumer bureau has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to temporarily stop the proposed closure, at least until there can be a full evaluation of the issue.

The consumer bureau says the center at 1737 Hunkins Drive processed 17,759 bill transactions a month in 2013.

Dan Jacobsen, staff manager for the consumer bureau, said shutting down the face-to-face service “presents an unreasonable hardship to many unsophisticated and at-risk customers” who don’t have the Internet or a telephone.

While many prefer the Internet or the telephone, Jacobsen said, “Other customers still need to be able to rely on face-to-face communication with its service department.”

Stillwell said the utility was hiring more staff to beef up its call center to a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation in April. It also is expanding its kiosks payment system, increasing its Shop ‘N Pay locations to more than 200 grocery stores in Clark County and maintaining its Internet and mail service.

“We are very committed to our customers’ service,” Stillwell said.

In its notice, NV Energy says, “Electronic payments continue to increase while U.S. Mail and branch office volume continues to decline.”

The consumer bureau, in its petition filed with the PUC, said, “In indicating its intention to close its last customer service center, (NV Energy), together with Sierra, has proposed or adopted a policy which constitutes a major policy change contrary to Nevada law and practice, which require a utility to have a walk-in office.’

The utility has already closed a drive-through payment window at the location.

The PUC opened an investigation in 2011 into complaints by customers about the service of NV Energy. The utility says it has made new improvements since then.

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