Protecting Utility Employees & Infrastructure

Members of the Nevada Rural Electric Association met with Assemblyman Max Carter during Public Power Day at the Legislature celebrations on April 6. Photo by Garret Hylton

Wells Rural Electric Company’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the communities it serves and provide members with safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible electricity. Accomplishing that task often requires the company’s attention in local, state, regional and even national legislatures. Through participation in the Nevada Rural Electric Association, WREC has been hard at work in recent months advocating for its members at the 82nd Nevada State Legislative Session that ended in early June.

So many of the challenges faced by cooperatives, and utilities in general, nationwide come from the regulatory arena that it would be irresponsible of WREC to not be active in advocating for its members. To accomplish that task most effectively on a statewide level, WREC joins other public power organizations from around the state as part the Nevada Rural Electric Association. By participating in the NREA, public utilities can form a collective voice that is much more powerful than trying to act as individuals.

This legislative session, the NREA was busy advocating for grid reliability, worker protection and the importance of consumer-owned utilities—like WREC— to rural Nevada communities. The NREA also partnered with Assemblyman Max Carter to pass Assembly Bill 321 in response to a troubling nationwide trend in attacks on utility personnel and infrastructure, including substations.

The bill accomplishes the following:

  • Provides for sentencing enhancements for assault or battery of a utility employee who is on the job and wearing identification.
  • Clarifies that it is a crime to trespass upon or damage utility infrastructure with or without the intent to interrupt service and prescribes penalties depending on the value of the damage caused. Further changes clarify that the utility can also seek civil damages against the perpetrator for the trespass or destruction.

AB 321 was known at the Legislature as “the balloon bill.” NV Energy also contributed to it with language that would require the state to move away from foil balloons, which conduct electricity, and instead prefer nonconductive materials to help improve reliability and limit outages.

Despite today’s heated political climate, both WREC and the NREA remain nonpartisan organizations who focus on fighting for the best interests of their members regardless of party. As a result, both organizations have formed strong friendships with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, and strive to build relationships with and educate all new representatives about public power and the members they so proudly serve. That approach is one that has been highly successful in Carson City to the benefit of WREC’s members.

NREA Director Carolyn Turner contributed to this story.