Watchdog alleges NV Energy seeking to stick ratepayers with cost of tickets, sports promotions

By: - July 27, 2023 11:25 am

NV Energy has paid sponsorships with many local pro sports team, including the Henderson Silver Knights. (Photo courtesy of Henderson Silver Knights)

It’s called the Power Play, a few aptly-named minutes of unbridled hockey, sponsored by NV Energy as part of a year-long marketing partnership with the Henderson Silver Knights. The package – one of several the utility has with Southern Nevada sports teams – includes free tickets and Zamboni rides, too.

But NV Energy doesn’t want its customers to know the details of its sponsorships – such as how many VIP tickets or parking passes the utility is receiving from the Las Vegas Raiders, Las Vegas Aviators and the Silver Knights. Testimony from David Chairez, regulatory manager of the Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, disappeared from the Public Utilities Commission website Monday, just hours after it was posted. 

In a motion filed Thursday morning with the PUC, NV Energy says Chairez’ testimony was on the website for four hours, “…long enough for the company to receive multiple media requests to comment on the testimony, and receive concerns from customers implicated in the disclosure.”

NV Energy says it had an agreement with the BCP not to reveal confidential details of its sponsorships. The utility wants the agency to file amended testimony from Chairez with the objectionable details removed.

Chairez’ testimony questions NV Energy’s effort to recoup from customers some of the costs of its perk-laden sponsorship agreements with local sports teams and arenas, including what he says is all of the money it paid in 2022 to the Silver Knights and Henderson’s Dollar Loan Center Arena, a partnership of the city and the Vegas Golden Knights,  

The BCP wants the PUC to reject NV Energy’s effort to recover from consumers about $200,000 of $1.3 million the company spent on sponsorships in 2022.

Those expenses are reported to federal energy regulators under “civic, political, and related activities,” made “for the purpose of influencing the decisions of public officials.”

NV Energy and its foundation spent more than $3.6 million on charitable donations in 2022, according to spokeswoman Meghin Delaney, and does “not include in-kind contributions or volunteer hours from employees,” she said. 

The utility’s customers “should not be asked to pay for sponsorship of professional sports teams and community events,” Chairez said in the testimony filed Monday, adding the amounts challenged by the BCP do not qualify for recovery from ratepayers under federal law and should be paid for by shareholders.

Chairez says the PUC must deny NV Energy’s request to recover the costs if the utility used the benefits for employees and friends, but not the public.

“To be clear, NV Energy is not requesting recovery for the cost of sponsorships we have done with the Las Vegas Raiders, the Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights organization, or the Las Vegas Aviators which have been called into question, nor are we asking for customers to pay for tickets to attend sponsored events,” the utility’s spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said via email. “Tickets to sponsored events and allowances for merchandise or other sponsor benefits are paid for by the company itself – not customers.

Delaney said NV Energy is only seeking recoup costs associated with promoting the company’s PowerShift program.

But Chairez’ filing, based on the utility’s records, indicates otherwise. 

NV Energy is asking customers to pay the entire $62,500 cost of its sponsorship with the Silver Knights, which includes tickets, Chairez testified. All information about the Silver Knights’ sponsorship is redacted in NV Energy’s motion to compel.

NV Energy, in an email to the Current received after publication, disputed Chairez’s claim, saying their total sponsorship is greater than $62,500 and that tickets are not included in that $62,500 amount. They declined to provide a different total sponsorship figure.

A confidential agreement Chairez cited in his original testimony says the utility paid the Las Vegas Raiders $250,000 for a sponsorship package in 2022 that includes “multiple VIP club season tickets and parking passes, player appearances and thousands of dollars in merchandise credits.” Those details are redacted in the utility’s motion to compel. NV Energy is seeking to recoup $50,000 of its Allegiant Stadium sponsorship from customers.

NV Energy said the company is not seeking to recoup the cost of season tickets.

“NV Energy is seeking to recover a limited amount of advertisement costs associated with our PowerShift programs that provide important energy saving tools that directly benefit our customers and are appropriately allowed under Nevada law and have been previously reviewed and approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada,” said Delaney in a statement.

The utility also wants customers to pick up the tab for $75,000 of $125,000 paid to the Las Vegas Aviators and the Las Vegas Ballpark in 2022. The sponsorship package includes advertising in the ballpark for the utility’s PowerShift energy efficiency program, including banners and announcements.

Nevada Administrative Code allows the utility to recover some costs “based on measurable and verifiable effects of implementation of programs for energy efficiency and conservation.”

But Chairez argues the utility has presented no data indicating exposure to its marketing at sporting events played prominently in a customer’s decision to participate in conservation or efficiency programs.

“What percentage of NV Energy’s 886,143 residential customers in 2022 attended a Las Vegas Aviators baseball game?” Chairez wondered in his testimony. He noted the utility’s “redesigned bill with colorfill inserts” or “email communications with customers” provide a direct and cost-effective means of advertising the benefits of PowerShift.

The Aviators’ sponsorship package also includes “multiple season tickets and a group event date that includes more than 100 tickets,” Chairez testified, noting he, a NV Energy customer, does not recall being invited to use a ticket but is being asked to foot the bill.

The utility paid $10,000 to sponsor the Clark County Fair and Rodeo, and is attempting to recoup the entire amount from ratepayers. The sponsorship includes multiple passes to the rodeo and tickets to the fair, Chairez testified, adding that confidential emails reveal the utility previously passed the cost of the event on to shareholders rather than customers.

Chairez also raised concerns about NV Energy’s sponsorship of the Reno PBS station, the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, and “the level of spending for advertising PowerShift that NPC (Nevada Power Company – NV Energy’s official name in Southern Nevada) is incurring with its advertising agency, R&R Partners.”

Nevada Administrative Code allows the utility to recoup from customers the cost of  “advertising which informs customers how they can conserve energy or reduce peak demand for energy,” the goals of the PowerShift campaign.

He implored the PUC to “disallow recovery of these sponsorship costs from customers struggling to pay their monthly electricity bills.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional statements and information from NV Energy.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.