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OPD manager says he’ll help Mesquite seek new power source

Overton Power District's manager says he'll help Mesquite seek a new power provider.

Mesquite Mayor Mark Wier announced at the Nov. 27 city council meeting that the city would seek another company to provide electricity for the city.

“I think it’s time for us as a community to look at additional power sources to ensure competitive rates,” Wier said. “Therefore I am asking the city manager (Andy Barton) to initiate conversations with alternative power suppliers to determine the feasibility of having additional suppliers for the city of Mesquite.”

When contacted at his office in Overton by the MLN on Thursday, Nov. 29, Overton Power District #5 Manager Delmar Leatham did not hesitate to offer the district’s assistance.

“It’s really sad that it’s come to this,” he said. “We’ve worked together for 75 years and at this point a few misguided individuals have created such a large problem for everyone else.  Our focus is no longer on providing power; our focus is on these political issues.  But we’re more than willing to work with the city in resolving this in a manner that is beneficial to both parties.”

He said he would contact Wier and Barton to offer his assistance. He noted that there are several other power providers in the area including Lincoln Power, Valley Power in Pahrump, NV Energy and Dixie Escalante in St. George, Utah.

Dixie Escalante is a possibility.  “I think the complications with Dixie Escalante are more of an issue than with Valley or Nevada Power.” But he went on to say that the city did have options if it wanted to start its own municipal power district.

“We would encourage them to explore the financial benefits of forming their own municipal utility.  We’d be more than happy to provide them any assistance that we can,” he added.

When asked whether the city would have to purchase the power distribution facilities from OPD#5 he said, “They would not have to buy the system but they would have to assume their portion of the debt.”

Paying down the district's debt service was a major cause of the recent power rate increase that led to the "political issues," to which Leatham referred. But the OPD board's decision to grant employees $300 end-of-year-bonuses seems to be what angered Mesquite City Councilmen George Rapson and Kraig Hafen, who attended the Nov. 14 meeting in Overton.

Vernon Robison, publisher/editor of the Moapa Valley Progress, in a front-page story Nov. 21, quoted the councilmen:

“It is the ratepayers who write the checks,” Hafen said. “We are the ones who keep the lights on! We are just asking for you to be responsible. They (OPD employees) all still have their jobs and I’m grateful they do. But you can only go back to the people for so long. If you don’t wake up, you are going to be doing a 4.5-percent rate increase every month.”

Robison also quoted Rapson . “Clearly you all haven’t worked in the private sector or have had blinders on for the past five years with regard to health care cuts, Christmas parties, bonuses and layoffs. You are insulated. “

Rapson later called the board members “the most disingenuous group of thieves, I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Other Mesquite residents also were at the meeting. One was Barbara Ellestad, owner and editor of the on-line Mesquite Citizen Journal. She, too, took exception with the employee bonuses. Robison also quoted her:

“At what point do the employees; and all of you (board members) who are getting $500 per month for basically raping the ratepayers; when are all of you going to take your share of cuts, like you made us take cuts to our personal budgets with your rate hike last month?” Ellestad said. “Every one of you should be ashamed.”

Ellestad has asked to be appointed to a vacancy on the board.

As well as his news story, Robison also wrote an editorial on the subject on Nov. 21, criticizing the tone and effect of the Mesquite residents’ criticism.

“The trouble is that this situation has passed out of the small town pond of people working themselves into a feeding frenzy and has entered the deeper, more troubling, waters of adding a significant cost to the public,” he wrote, adding later, “More to the point, these complaints will require the OPD to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to respond to them. Guess who pays for that! That’s right, it is you and me, the OPD ratepayers.”

But despite the turmoil, Leatham said he would cooperate in helping Mesquite find a different source of power or form its own company.

OPD is also assisting several other local entities which may be eligible to apply for new power allocations, which will be available when contracts for Hoover Dam power are reallocated in 2013.  Native Americans and non-profit agencies are expected to be in the top two tiers of eligible groups.

Leatham told the MLN that OPD, which already has a contract for Hoover Dam power, is following the reallocation process closely so it can help local applicants.

“We’ll be working closely with a couple of entities here in the community to try to capture some of that hydro (power) for those entities.  We’re going to help them with the application process,” he added.

The staff of the Colorado River Commission (CRC) of Nevada will host an informal public meeting on Western Area Power Administration’s proposed marketing criteria for the upcoming sale next week.  The meeting will be in the CRC conference room in the Grant Sawyer Building, E. Washington Ave., Suite 3100, Las Vegas, on Monday, Dec. 10, 1 p.m. To register go to http://crc.nv.gov; for more information e-mail: info@crchooverallocation.com or call (702) 486-2670.

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