LV Aviators warm up against the backdrop of NV Energy’s PowerShift branding at Las Vegas Ballpark. (Photo: LV Aviators Facebook)
An effort by NV Energy to deem details of its sponsorship agreements with sports teams confidential is unjust and prevents ratepayers from knowing what they’re being asked to pay for, the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection asserted in a filing Tuesday, asking the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to declare the agreements are not confidential.
The utility “took great effort to hide from the public the specific items” it negotiated in sponsorship agreements. “These items will either be fully or partially paid for by ratepayers” if the PUC allows the information to remain confidential, the BCP wrote in its motion.
But NV Energy says keeping a lid on how many tickets and parking passes the company gets from the Las Vegas Raiders, the Henderson Silver Knights and the Las Vegas Aviators protects the utility and the teams, and alleges the BCP “knowingly violated” a confidentiality agreement.
“The counterparts to these contracts rely on the confidentiality provisions to protect their confidential commercial information when dealing with the company,” Marie Steele, an NV Energy vice-president, testified in rebuttal to the BCP’s motion to make the information public.
The BCP, in a motion filed Tuesday, argues the public has a right to know details of the deals, since NV Energy initially sought to recoup roughly $200,000 of its sponsorship costs from ratepayers, and earn a profit in the process.
NV Energy has since withdrawn its request to charge ratepayers $50,000 of its $250,000 sponsorship deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and $10,000 for its entire sponsorship of the Clark County Fair.
The utility asserts ratepayers fund “a subset of the NV Energy advertisements addressed in the sponsorships.” The advertising initiatives are marketed under PowerShift, an umbrella for programs paid for primarily by customers.
State and federal law allow utilities to recoup from customers the cost of advertising efficiency and conservation programs, if the advertising can be shown to be effective.
Steele testified a vendor engaged to measure the results reported a 7% “increase in awareness” between March 2022 and 2023. but noted difficulty “pinpointing the exact outreach that led to the customer’s awareness of the programs.”
The utility would not say whether it saw an increase in program participation.
“Let’s be clear. These costs should not be recoverable,” Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen, a national watchdog organization, said in an interview. “But for NV Energy to say ‘we want ratepayers, working families to pay these costs, and these working families cannot know the budget that we have with the Raiders or other teams’ – that’s completely outrageous and whatever executives and attorneys are making that argument should actually be reprimanded.”
In late July, testimony from BCP’s regulatory manager David Chairez opposing NV Energy’s effort to recover the cost of sponsorship advertising appeared on the PUC’s website long enough for the Current to report.
The PUC removed the testimony later in the day when NV Energy protested Chairez’ inclusion of information the utility claimed was confidential, including sponsorship benefits such as the number of tickets NV Energy received to sporting events.
Steele cited what she called errors in Chairez’ testimony, noting he asserted the utility was seeking to recoup the entire cost of its $62,500 sponsorship with the Henderson Silver Knights. Steele noted the cost of the sponsorship is actually more, but the amount is redacted.
A spokesperson for NV Energy has also declined to reveal the entire cost of the deal with the hockey team and arena.
The utility says the BCP knowingly violated the agreement and it’s attempting to have Chairez disqualified from ever testifying before the PUC. A hearing is set for Aug. 18. A hearing on the sponsorships is scheduled for Aug. 21.
“This is bullying tactics by Warren Buffett’s utility,” says Slocum of Public Citizen, who says he’s worked with Chairez and called him “a consummate professional. Nevada is lucky to have him.”
The utility contends the information BCP wants to make public is confidential, proprietary, or a trade secret, under Nevada law.
The BCP argues the sponsorship information is none of those.
Nevada law does not define “confidential commercial information” according to the BCP’s motion, but the State Supreme court defines it as “information, which, if disclosed, would cause substantial economic harm to the competitive position of the entity from whom the information was obtained.”
“We’re not talking about expenditures related to cybersecurity or providing security for vulnerable critical energy infrastructure. These aren’t the nuclear codes,” says Slocum. “This is advertising with a professional sports team. There’s nothing proprietary about that.”
The BCP alleges NV Energy “went to great lengths to bury the items in multiple exhibits to sponsorship agreements and designate (as confidential) an email chain in which it discusses the items as confidential.”
NV Energy “was not trying to keep it secret because it was some form of technology, data, or formula that could be used by a competitor to undercut” the company, but rather to hide from the public the sponsorship deals it was getting for its own benefit, the BCP argues, adding withholding the information from the public is “unjust and unreasonable.”
Nevada law gives the PUC the authority to deem any material as non-confidential.
The sponsorship agreements are not confidential under Nevada law because NV Energy, a monopoly, can’t be harmed, the BCP argues. Even if it could, “the disclosure of sponsorship agreements and an email chain would not result in substantial damage.”
“This begs the question of why NPC deems it prudent to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on sports and entertainment companies – there is no need for name recognition,” says the BCP’s motion.
But NV Energy argues that meeting its energy conservation goals requires ongoing education of Nevada’s transitory population, including, Steele says, “thousands of residents moving into Clark County on a monthly basis, many of whom would be unaware of the Company’s energy efficiency and conservation programs without the marketing efforts.”
Developed by a “team of marketing and communications professionals” from NV Energy and R&R Advertising, according to Steele, the PowerShift campaign encourages customers to “make a power move” using “a multifaceted strategy to raise awareness of the PowerShift brand.”
But even longtime residents are generally in the dark about PowerShift, or that they are charged monthly to fund its programs, thanks to legislative mandates.
The Energy Efficiency Rebate Program (EERP), passed in 2009, allows NV Energy to pass on to customers the cost of energy efficiency and conservation programs, such as refrigerator recycling, pool pump and heater rebates, and discounts for LED lights bulbs.
The Renewable Energy Program Rate (REPR), created in 2007, allows the utility to collect a fee from ratepayers to reimburse NV Energy for renewable energy incentive programs.
The Universal Energy Charge, approved by lawmakers in 2001, is used primarily to assist low-income households pay their power bills. About a quarter of the money is used to weatherize households in need.
“Today, you and your fellow Nevadans are paying less for energy than a decade ago,” says NV Energy’s website. “With PowerShift you have the power to keep the savings going all year long. And, nothing matters more to us than helping you save.”
The utility did not respond to numerous requests to document its claim that energy costs are less than ten years ago.
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