Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fighting Back Against OPD

Last week, the Overton Power District showed their complete contempt for the people they are supposed to serve by unanimously approving a 4.5 percent rate increase, despite very vocal protests by Mesquite rate payers.  The increase comes on the heels of another $5 increase imposed last year. 
It's one of the downsides to allowing any monopoly to exist, even when it's supposedly a quasi-governmental agency.  In a lot of states, the monopoly is supposedly held in check by some form of Public Utility Commission, a state agency which has veto authority over rate increases.
Oddly enough, the Public Utility Commission of Nevada does not regulate OPD or the Virgin Valley Water District.  In fact, according to the PUCN website, the only entity regulated by this taxpayer-funded agency is Nevada Energy, a privately-owned power company.  It's typical government stupidity -- the bureaucrats telling private companies what they can and can't do, but allowing other government agencies like OPD to do whatever they like.
So OPD has given us the finger and told all of its ratepayers in Mesquite to go pound sand.  They did it with a tremendous amount of confidence, since they believe they're untouchable.  That arrogance is well-proved, as Mesquite has frequently been a do-nothing community that tends to quietly accept whatever screwing is doled out at any particular time.
But that was the old Mesquite.
As is to be expected from a collection of good old boys that is so far removed from the reality of the people they serve, they don't realize that this community has grown up and begun demanding better from their public servants, as exemplified by the much-improved VVWD and the highly responsive new Mesquite City Council.
Now OPD has made their decision.  The question remains: what are we going to do about it?
The answer: it's already started.
Thanks to the vigilance and determination of the Mesquite Citizen Journal, a pair of OPD's "good old boys" may be facing removal from the club.  Two of the members who pretended to represent Mesquite while quietly being repeatedly re-elected term after term have allegedly violated the state's term-limit law which says they can only serve 12 years.  According to a recent opinion by the state's lackluster Attorney General, one of the laziest and most unresponsive entities in Carson City (another housecleaning that's long overdue), the two board members appear to be in violation of the law and won't be eligible to continue after the first of the year.  OPD tried to play some games with the state law, and has been getting away with it because nobody was looking.  Now, they've got our attention.
Unfortunately, this won't even slow down the current administration, because the law says OPD's board gets to pick the two replacements for the departing yes-men.  Don't expect anything to change with those appointments, and be prepared to live with more of the same for the next two years.
But we don't have to wait.  Here are some things we can actually do to make OPD's life miserable.
Start Obtaining Electricity From Elsewhere - One of the funny things about OPD's defense of their rates is that they included a list of rates from other power companies.  Fortunately, one of the lowest rates on that list belongs to our next door neighbors, St. George's Dixie Escalante Power.  The company already serves Beaver Dam, Littlefield, and Scenic.  Just eight more miles of cable, and they could easily serve Mesquite.  It will require a political fight to make this happen, but it would absolutely be worth the ensuing blood on the floor.  This fight has to start with the Mesquite City Council making inquiries into how to make this happen.  There is where we need to focus our immediate attention.
Start Our Own Power Company - This isn't as far-fetched as it seems.  Caliente, a tiny little town of barely 1,000 people in Lincoln County, has their own electric company.  It would probably require an authorizing act from the Nevada State Legislature (which happens to meet again in just four months), and a lot of work by the citizens of Mesquite, but it is a long term solution that would put us squarely in the driver's seat of our own destiny.  It would also be a death blow to OPD, which would have to pay its bonds with money earned solely from the much-smaller and less affluent Moapa Valley.  Their bonds would crater, and you could probably see the smoke from their humiliating bankruptcy all the way in Mesquite.  Don't let the naysayers tell you this can't be done.  It can.
De-fang The Rate Increase By Conserving Electricity - This is hard for an avowed anti-environmentalist to write, but we can actually serve up a great big helping of "kiss my butt" by getting together as a community and collectively reducing power consumption in our valley.  By doing simple things like replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, turning off lights and electric devices when not in use, and being more conscientious about our use of electricity, we could easily reduce our power consumption by 5% without feeling it.  This would offset the 4.5% increase.  If we really wanted to make a statement, we would hold a weekly protest called "No Power Hour."  During that designated hour, citizens would agree to turn off all their electric devices for one hour each week.  In addition to taking money out of the OPD coffers, it might also be fun to pretend we are like the pioneers who founded this community: devoid of any electricity.  We could have "No-Power Parties" by candlelight, with food cooked on a grill. 
In addition to salving our wounded wallets, this would also create a severe problem for OPD.  With reduced revenue, they would be back to being unable to meet their debt obligations, which would cause them problems with their bondholders. 
The reduced income might force OPD to implement another round of increases, which would actually force more people to reduce their power use.  Which would force more rate increases.  Which would force more electric use cutbacks.  See where this is going?  OPD cannot win in this scenario, because their revenue will continue to go down, leading to defaults on the offending bonds which, according to the liars at OPD, caused this problem in the first place. 
This isn't just speculation.  A similar scenario has caused water utility defaults in other parts of the country.  Meanwhile, if we implement one of the other two suggestions of starting our own power company or joining Dixie Escalante, by the time OPD augers in, it will no longer be our problem.
Power Bill Boycott - A more militant option would be for citizens to decide as a group to stop paying their electric bills.  You want to hurt ANY group, even a quasi-public entity?  Cut off their cash flow.  Of course, they hold the upper hand because they could turn off the electricity of every protester.  There are legal ways to delay those actions, but they would only be putting off the inevitable.  However, if the community will was strong enough, this is certainly a courageous option that would make our Boston Tea Party forefathers proud.

These are just a few of the options available to us as citizens and rate payers.  Some would require sacrifice and hard work on the part of the people.  The real question comes down to this:
The Overton Power District board has abused their authority, botched their mandate, and are flipping the bird at all of us.
So what are we going to do about it?


  1. I thought about both options, not using as much electric and not paying the bill but I wish there was a way for the entire community to turn off all electric at the same time, but how? One hour would not hurt anyone. Just like getting rid of the Dr. at the hospital, what has happened there?

  2. I vote for joining Dixie or setting up our own power company. If Mesquite had money to throw at a sports tent, then surely we have the money to make a dent in having one of the above come to fruition.

  3. Great article and thanks for doing the work needed to come up with some great options. They are banking on our reaction being the same as it always has been.....complacence. We can no longer sit back and accept their contempt for ratepayers. Sad to say the good old boys appear to be suffering from entitlement fever and a serious integrity deficiency.
    I too vote for joining Dixie or forming our own pwr co. In the meantime I'd love to participate in an all area planned "blackout" hour . At the very least I plan to cut my individual use.