OSHA complaints reveal worker concerns amid COVID-19; agency inspectors eye construction industry

On March 18, one day after Gov. Steve Sisolak announced sweeping orders to close nonessential businesses amid the coronavirus outbreak, a UPS employee filed a workplace complaint.

Sisolak’s directive — aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and similar to orders in other states — exempted thousands of employees in sectors deemed essential to daily life, including health care, public transportation, manufacturing, construction and mail delivery.

But with protective equipment limited and companies scrambling to issue guidelines, workers were left concerned about contracting the virus on the job. The UPS employee was one example. 

On March 18, the UPS worker was concerned enough that he wrote to the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employees at the UPS location in Sparks, the worker alleged, touched packages, but “are not provided with gloves, wipes, and hand sanitizer for protection against COVID-19.” The employee also said trucks were not cleaned between drivers.

OSHA reached out to UPS. 

On March 24, UPS wrote: “Upon request of our employees and when in supply, we do provide our employees gloves, N95 masks, and hand sanitizer. If an employee were to request any of the above items, we issue the item when we have that item in supply. When our stock runs out of a specific item, we communicate that to the employee that is requesting a specific item.”

The company said it had dedicated crews to clean cars. It also sent photos of supplies on hand and a list of guidelines for employees to prevent the spread of coronavirus at the workplace.

After a little more back-and-forth, the case file ended there. 

More than a dozen coronavirus-related case files obtained by The Nevada Independent follow a similar pattern. An employee files a complaint. An OSHA official starts a written inquiry, asking the employer to investigate the allegation and outline company safety precautions. In some cases, OSHA will do an inspection. Once the response is satisfactory, OSHA closes the case. 

Dozens more cases are the subject of open inquiries. OSHA does not share records until a case file is closed. But according to a log obtained through a records request, at least four complaints related to COVID-19 have been filed against Tesla, another was filed within the state prison system and others have been lodged against big retailers, including Walmart and Lowe’s.

COVID-19 sign posted near the construction entrance at Allegiant Stadium on Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

‘The state has made it a little firmer’

In recent weeks, OSHA’s focus has centered largely around one industry: construction.

After OSHA released a memo March 26 that pointed out many work sites were “visibly” violating social-distancing rules, agency officials continued to monitor construction sites across the state.

According to logs obtained by The Nevada Independent, OSHA inspectors have observed dozens of violations since the March memo. Jess Lankford, the chief administrative officer for Nevada OSHA, housed in the Division of Industrial Relations, said contractors are being cited for observed violations. On Wednesday, Lankford said OSHA had issued citations at more than 20 locations. These citations go on contractors’ safety records and can be as high as $13,494.

As of Thursday, OSHA had issued 84 citations. The agency could not release a list of which contractors had been cited because it was still in the process of notifying the companies. 

The days following the business closure announcement were marked by uncertainty. What rules did “essential” businesses have to implement to stay open? And how would they be enforced?

Four days after the original announcement, Sisolak signed Emergency Directive 003 on March 20, stating that construction, manufacturing and mining could continue to operate, but only with strict social distancing. As a result of the directive, OSHA required construction sites to practice social distancing at all times, a move that goes beyond federal OSHA coronavirus guidelines. 

The federal rules encourage social distancing but allow for workers to be within six feet of each other for certain tasks, if they also gear up in personal protective equipment, known as PPE.

Instead, Nevada regulators required social distancing at all times.

“The state has made it a little firmer on its social-distancing protocol,” Lankford said.

And the state is enforcing that standard.

Over the past three weeks, OSHA officials have observed and logged numerous violations in large and small construction projects across Las Vegas and Reno. At least one violation was documented at Allegiant Stadium, where three workers are confirmed to have the virus. 

According to a log of OSHA observations dated April 9, one regulatory agent observed “two employees in a manlift and 3 in a pit were not in compliance with the distancing protocol.”

The high-profile site has emerged as a symbol for those questioning the governor’s decision to allow construction to continue operating, despite the closure of other businesses. On at least three other visits, OSHA inspectors have not recorded any social distancing violations.

In a statement, Mortenson-McCarthy, the joint-venture constructing the stadium said it had not received a formal citation yet, “but we did recently receive an email with some photographs from OSHA that we are currently in discussions about.” According to a separate OSHA complaint log, two other individuals have filed other complaints about the site. The Mortenson-McCarthy group said it was working with OSHA to “meet or exceed the necessary standards and regulations.” 

Because the cases are ongoing, further details of the complaints are not available.

In the case of Allegiant Stadium, Mortenson-McCarthy has implemented a slew of coronavirus mitigation measures, from verbal health screenings to staggered start times. Industry leaders said it was one of the prime examples of how to continue operating while reducing risk. 

They also stressed that there is a protocol for reporting cases in Southern Nevada. Frank Hawk, vice president of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said it was important to share information throughout the industry about positive tests. When there are rumors, it hurts morale.

Hawk pointed to the process last Saturday, when a fourth case was reported at the construction site for Resorts World. As the chair of the Nevada Construction Assembly, an industry task force reporting to the governor, he said he notified the group of the details. The worker was assigned to the pool deck. Hawk said the contractor closed the pool deck and sent close contacts home.

“I can get information out pretty fast to the individuals,” he said.

But at smaller or lower-profile construction sites, compliance concerns remain. Hawk said on Tuesday that the Nevada Construction Assembly had received 31 complaints in Las Vegas.

“All of the complaints were on very small projects where maybe they didn’t have proper toilet facilities out there, no hand-washing stations and no directions for social distancing,” he said.

According to the logs, OSHA officials have observed multiple violations at construction sites where there is less information available about measures to prevent the spread of the virus. 

In total, OSHA has issued 50 citations from its Las Vegas office and 34 citations from its Reno office. Lankford said a project could be shut down if it receives three or more citations.

Paul McKenzie, a former Reno city councilman and the secretary-treasurer for the Building & Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, said there needs to be a clearer reporting process — and mitigation strategy — for construction sites in the northern part of the state. 

“One of the reasons that we are having the impact on our construction so heavily with COVID-19 cases is because there is not a clear procedure of what should happen on a job site if somebody tests COVID-19 positive,” he said, noting several cases on construction sites.

‘Brand new to everybody’

From industries to regulators, everyone is operating on new terrain addressing COVID-19.

“A few weeks ago, this was brand new to everybody,” Hawk said, when asked whether he thought the March 26 memo, warning the construction industry to social distance, was fair. 

“It took some getting used to and the industry had to turn on a dime,” he said. “And so would I say that everyone was being perfect angels? No. It took us getting 15,000, 20,000 construction workers in a three-mile radius and [getting] them all to pull on the same side of the world.” 

And coronavirus has forced OSHA to adjust, too. Lankford said the regulatory agency has moved to a skeletal process to protect its own staff from coronavirus. Inspectors are not going onto sites, Lankford said, and conducting investigations over the phone or on their computers. 

From afar, OSHA looks for whether workers are complying with social distancing, even for tasks such as setting a window panel, that require workers to gather in close proximity. But watching from a distance has caused some frustration among the construction industry. 

“When you’re taking a picture with a telephoto lens or something along those lines, it’s hard to judge,” Hawk said, noting that the photos of alleged violations can sometimes be misleading. 

With the shutdown expected to continue for several weeks, some contractors are looking to the governor’s office to adjust its directives to the agency. Guy Martin, the president of Martin-Harris Construction, received photographs from OSHA showing workers on one of his projects not complying with social distancing, despite his efforts to institute stringent rules.

“Nobody could tell us what time the photographs were taken,” he said. “Nobody could even tell us what date the photos were taken. Nobody could tell us who was in the photographs.”

Martin, part of the Nevada Construction Assembly, said he understands why social distancing is important. But he said that there should be allowances made for construction workers to perform certain tasks if they are covered in PPE, as the federal OSHA guidelines allow. He argued that construction workers are already trained to mitigate for high-risk situations.

“You’re going to reach a point where you can run out of things you can do being six-feet apart from each other,” he said. “That is just a natural thing. That is going to happen.”

He does not necessarily fault OSHA. Everyone, he said, is operating in new territory. 

“It’s unfair that anybody would get this sick,” he said. “It’s unfair that you would find yourself in quarantine. It’s unfair that our entire gaming corridor and convention’s program has been on lockdown. It’s all unfair. But this has gone to unreasonable and that’s not necessary.”

If social distancing is being strictly enforced at construction sites, he questions why OSHA is not applying it at other businesses, like grocery stores, where workers interact more with the public.

He is urging the governor’s office to consider revising the construction industry guidelines to allow for limited exceptions if construction workers use exhaustive protective gear, or PPE. 

But the issue can be more complicated: Requiring PPE on all essential workers could take away from the respirators and equipment needed at medical facilities, which have faced shortages.

For regulators, coronavirus has left fewer agents on the ground to conduct inspections. In addition to regulating construction, OSHA is responsible for processing complaints from other private and public organizations, from hospitals to grocery stores and public transportation.

When OSHA receives an employee complaint or an allegation, it will either do an inspection or open an inquiry by sending a letter to the business involved. Now the regulatory agency is conducting more inquiries for complaints and postponing inspections in some cases.

“Because I’m holding people within the office and not putting people into the field, some of these inquiries that we do may be held for a while to take a look at later on,” Lankford said. 

Coronavirus fills the complaint log 

About 80 percent of the complaints OSHA has received in the past month-and-a-half have been about coronavirus, Lankford said. The governor’s directive closing nonessential businesses and other actions set off a string of complaints, much like the UPS example, filed with OSHA.

Closed case records obtained by The Nevada Independent show employees concerned about whether they are being protected from the virus. The concerns and the responses by several companies echo systemic issues identified throughout the country. There is a shortage of face masks and other protective equipment, even for workers continuing to provide critical services

Complainants aren’t always employees. The OSHA form asks complainants to indicate whether they’re an employee, representative of an employee, employer, federal safety and health committee or other, in which case they’re asked to specify. Many are filed anonymously.

But the exchanges — between the complainant and OSHA and then OSHA and the employer — reveal workplace safety concerns for essential employees in the age of coronavirus. 

Take a closed case at the Tesla Gigafactory.

A representative of an employee lodged a complaint March 19 against Panasonic Energy of North America, which is part of the Gigafactory in Sparks. The hazard description: “Employees working in Winding and Assembly clean rooms are using change rooms with 80-100 employees at a time, which doesn’t allow for proper social distancing in the prevention of COVID-19.”

After OSHA receives a complaint, the agency turns around and notifies the workplace in a letter, noting it has not confirmed the allegation but is requesting an internal investigation.

Within a week, Panasonic’s general counsel responded, saying the corporation had already implemented social distancing measures and, because of the complaint, had “performed a COVID-19 Social Distancing Risk Assessment in connection with Gowning Rooms.”

The risk assessment led to signage posted in gowning rooms as well as floor and bench markings to maintain social distancing, Panasonic officials said. The corporation, which operates separately from Tesla, also began distributing masks to employees and has an attendant monitor and enforce social distancing in the gowning rooms during peak traffic times.

OSHA officials deemed the reply satisfactory and informed Panasonic the “file on this matter can be closed and no further action on this complaint is anticipated at this time.”

A nearly identical process played out with 15 other coronavirus-related complaints — reviewed by The Nevada Independent — that were investigated and closed. But dozens more cases remain open, and it’s likely that OSHA will receive more complaints in the coming weeks. 

For instance, there were at least four coronavirus-related Tesla cases filed in the last week of March. Tesla did not respond to two requests for comment. But it has also implemented social distancing, temperature screenings and other measures, according to a document shared by the company at a board meeting for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.  

The open cases cut across multiple industries, and Lankford said OSHA is sharing its duties with other relevant agencies. When complaints are filed in a health care setting, it is working with local health districts and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

On Tuesday, OSHA released further guidelines for essential businesses. 

Medical personnel checks the temperature of a woman at the temporary homeless shelter built in the parking lot at Cashman Center on Monday, March 30, 2020. The shelter was set up after Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada temporarily closed its night shelter because a man was tested positive for COVID-19. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Realities on the ground

In some cases, organizations are restrained by the same forces that are affecting the whole nation, including a shortage of materials and general anxiety about the coronavirus, given its ability to spread quietly and widely. This was true in several health care-related complaints.

A Henderson Hospital employee, for instance, complained about a lack of N95 masks. The hospital disputed that allegation. And a St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center employee alleged the hospital didn’t inform staff about a patient with COVID-19 symptoms. A facilities director at the Reno hospital told OSHA “the patient was directed to enter the facility through our dedicated respiratory illness tent which leads to a negative pressure triage room.” 

More complaints about face masks, or lack thereof, rolled in from employees at Summerlin Medical Center and Renown Regional Medical Center. OSHA closed those cases as well. 

Renown’s safety officer told OSHA the hospital is making sure employees have the “appropriate” personal protective equipment, but she didn’t gloss over the difficulties arising from the national shortage.

“During the current COVID-19 pandemic, there have been challenges nationwide obtaining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), particularly N95 respirators,” Tammy Oliver, an emergency preparedness and safety officer for Renown Health, wrote to OSHA. “During this shortage, Renown Health is following the extended use guidelines provided by the CDC.”

The workplace safety agency also fielded coronavirus-related complaints regarding FedEx and the Nevada Department of Corrections. On March 23, a FedEx complainant said employees were working within six feet of each other at a Sparks location, thus not meeting social distancing guidelines. 

FedEx officials said workers had been briefed about safety precautions prior to the complaint, but facility managers addressed the allegations with employees during pre-work meetings later in March. They also took a number of other steps, including limiting the number of people in break rooms, taping a six-foot radius around time clocks and propping open doors to reduce hand contact, according to their reply letter to OSHA. The regulatory agency closed the case.

An NDOC employee, on the same day, filed a complaint alleging the Warm Springs Correctional Facility wasn’t providing correctional officers with PPE or doing enough to protect workers should a COVID-19 case appear within the facility. The complaint triggered a series of correspondence between prison officials and OSHA investigators. One OSHA employee included this comment in an email to NDOC officials requesting additional information: 

“I assume there are frequent requirements for officers to come within six feet of prisoners, so I can fully understand their concerns and their families concerns, especially with other prisons identifying cases of this illness recently, and today’s news article about a ‘perfectly healthy’ father of six in Texas who just died from COVID-19 related complications.”

Ultimately, OSHA closed this case, tool.

NDOC officials told The Nevada Independent that the department’s executive team as well as medical and human resources staff have been reviewing all employee inquiries and have implemented “forward-thinking protocols,” such as suspending vistations, screening employees for virus symptoms and producing their own hand sanitizer, masks and gowns.

“NDOC works closely with public health officials on its COVID-19 response, which is to detect and rapidly contain introductions of the virus,” prison officials wrote in a statement. “Also, NDOC's mission is to improve public safety by ensuring a safe and humane environment that incorporates proven rehabilitation initiatives that prepare individuals for successful reintegration into our communities. Our staff are professionals who understand the important nature of their work.”

As of Saturday morning, NDOC had reported six COVID-19 cases among staff members and none among inmates.

Not all of the OSHA complaints pertained to protection gear or distancing measures. At least one centered around what goes on outside work. An employee from Gale Building Products, an insulation contractor in Sparks, raised a concern about the company bringing in workers from the Bay Area, which is one of California’s regions most hard-hit by the coronavirus.

“We are not a life-sustaining business, and at this point it seems we are doing more endangering than anything,” the complainant wrote OSHA.

A branch manager for Gale Building Products disputed that characterization.

“As to the allegation of ‘quarantined’ workers from the Bay Area (CA) being brought over to work; we have a few union workforce employees that do live and typically work in CA,” company officials wrote in their response letter. “None of those employees are people under quarantine.” 

The branch manager also emphasized the economic reality that has affected so many workers, even essential workers: “In an effort to keep our employees working as long as possible, tradesman working projects that had been shut down were offered work at our location. None of our employees are under quarantine at this time and none would be allowed to work if they began to show symptoms related to the COVID-19 virus regardless of where they live.”

The company included a bulleted list of what it called “COVID19 Precautions.”

Like the other closed cases, it was enough to satisfy OSHA. The safety agency issued its standard response letter, closing the case with an opportunity for the complainant to review it.

“We appreciate your prompt response to these allegations, and your interest in safety and health of your employees,” OSHA officials wrote. “Please feel free to contact this office if we can be of additional assistance to you.”

Post-coronavirus workplace safety 

While COVID-19 has renewed dialogue about workplace safety, it’s not necessarily indicative of a surge in complaints. The virus has shuttered many businesses, lowering employment levels nationwide.

“There’s simply not that many workers to complain,” said Jim Thornton, chair of the governmental affairs committee for the American Society of Safety Professionals.

By and large, Thornton expects most workplaces will try to abide by OSHA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The fast-spreading nature of the virus, he said, has made it obvious doing so is in the best interest of both employers and employees.

“I believe that most employers out there want to do the right thing,” he said. “They want to provide their employees a safe and healthy work environment.”

For those that don’t, that’s where OSHA comes into play. Thornton, a certified safety professional and certified industrial hygienist, said the safety agency needs to intervene and issue citations when necessary and continue building on guidance it has already issued.

Thornton called the pandemic’s effect on the occupational health and safety sphere “remarkable” and unlike anything he has seen in his 40-year career. But he offered this potential upside: Industries traditionally focused on mechanical and physical dangers will likely come away with a heightened sensitivity to a hidden hazard — germs.

Do large in-person meetings need to occur? Or would a videoconference suffice? And how often are high-touch surfaces like elevator buttons, doorknobs, keyboards and copiers being cleaned? 

“I think we should really get the most good out of this,” he said. “I know it’s a bad thing. People are dying and suffering, and the economy is tanking. I know all that. But shame on us if we don’t all learn from it.”

Like the coronavirus itself, much remains unknown about its effect on health care system, tourism sector

A little more than a week ago, a who’s-who of Nevada leaders — the governor, attorney general, state superintendent and health officials from across the state — packed a government building lobby in downtown Las Vegas.

They came to display a unified front as Nevada braced for what seemed inevitable: a coronavirus case within the Silver State’s borders. Gov. Steve Sisolak even demonstrated the proper technique for coughing or sneezing into an elbow.

“We’re going to prepare, not panic,” he said.

Five days later, on Wednesday, Nevada’s first patient tested presumptively positive for COVID-19. Then came a second case in Reno the following day, and the third and fourth cases in Southern and Northern Nevada on Sunday.

While the state awaits official testing confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a different kind of test has begun playing out in Nevada. The emergence of the upper respiratory disease that has sickened about 100,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,300 stands to challenge the state’s health-care system, tourism sector and education department to varying degrees. Hospitals are readying for a potential influx of patients. Resorts are installing hand-sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic areas. School districts are canceling student trips and forming contingency plans.

Still, no one knows how widespread the coronavirus will emerge in Nevada or how long it will last, making public health and economic predictions difficult, if not, impossible. Other tragedies that either directly or indirectly affected Nevada, such as 9/11, the October 1 mass shooting and natural disasters, had more clear-cut beginning and end points, at least in terms of the event itself.

“The challenge with this one is the event is either A) happening, or, B) still ahead of us,” said Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer of R&R Partners, the ad agency that produces marketing campaigns for Las Vegas.

Sisolak at coronavirus press conference
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak demonstrates how to cover while sneezing during a news conference about coronavirus preparations on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Planning for patient influx

When the United States’ first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed Jan. 21 in a 35-year-old Washington man who had recently traveled to the center of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, it was only a matter of time before it was Nevada’s turn. True, there was only one airline, Hainan Airlines, that flew direct to China before suspending flights earlier this year. But with more than 50 million people flying through McCarran International Airport last year, the odds were never in Las Vegas’ favor.

So some considered it a small mercy that the first case of the novel coronavirus in the state wasn’t confirmed until Wednesday, in a Clark County man in his 50s who had known travel history to Washington, a locus for the virus’s outbreak in the U.S., and Texas, which also has many confirmed cases. 

“Every day that we don’t have a confirmed case just gives us one more day to take a deep breath and plan,” said John Packham, an associate dean at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine.

But the timing of the first diagnosis was also a byproduct of another mathematical reality. Labs in the state had only run 14 tests for COVID-19, which all came back negative, as of Tuesday evening. With a limited number of tests available, only a select number of patients, generally those with cough, fever and shortness of breath who recently traveled to a known affected region, have been tested for coronavirus in the state.

Where South Korea has gone so far as to offer voluntary drive-through coronavirus testing and identified thousands of patients with the virus, a botched test distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has meant the U.S. has tested relatively few people. In the state of Washington, researchers have determined the coronavirus has been likely circulating for weeks based on DNA evidence.

“It’s very likely that there is already community transmission here that we don’t know about,” said Dr. Kevin Murphy, an infectious disease specialist in Reno. “And that’s in part because we haven’t been able to ramp up our testing rapidly enough.”

So far, officials with the Southern Nevada and Washoe County health districts have said there is no evidence of community transmission. At least three of the four patients who have tested presumptively positive for the disease are thought to have acquired it elsewhere — the Clark County man during his travels to one of two states, a man in Northern Nevada who was a recent passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship linked to several cases of the virus, and a second Washoe County man in Santa Clara, Calif.

The Clark County man, a veteran who was identified through the Southern Nevada VA Health System, is in "serious condition," health officials said this week, while the Northern Nevada men are recovering from the virus in self-isolation at home. No further details were immediately available on Sunday about the fourth case in Clark County.

With the first four presumptively positive patients identified in the state, public health officials and doctors are continuing to prepare for additional cases to surface. On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services said local health officials were monitoring a total of 40 residents who had recently traveled aboard the Grand Princess, and Washoe County Health District officials tested kids at Huffaker Elementary School in Reno, attended by family members of the Northern Nevada man and where there has been a recent uptick in influenza-like symptoms among students. All the tests for kids at Huffaker came back negative for COVID-19, officials said Friday night.

“It’s a virus, and it’s going to spread all over the world,” said Dr. Dale Carrison, the former head of emergency at UMC and now an emergency room physician at Carson Tahoe Health. “There’s nothing anyone can do about it. It's a virus. It spreads.”

The Southern Nevada Health District main facility as seen in Las Vegas on Friday, March 6, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

While Nevada is known for having some of the worst health care in the nation, health officials here aren’t too worried about the state’s ability to handle an influx of cases. Carrison, who at one point chaired the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security, noted the networks that exist between hospitals to support each other in the event of a crisis, public health or otherwise.

“You look at our statistics and say our medical care is bad, but you couldn’t have had a more cooperative group of hospitals and people in the community on this earth,” he said.

But if 500 people get sick in Las Vegas at the same time?

“Well, that’s a problem,” Carrison said. “But guess what? That’s a problem in every city of the United States of America.”

The biggest pressure point experts see here is in hospital emergency rooms, which are already overcrowded. They worry that an influx of coronavirus patients needing hospitalization — coupled with only minorly ill patients or those who may worry they have contracted the disease flooding emergency rooms — could put intense stress on the system.

“My biggest concern is hospitals really both north and south that are already operating at capacity,” said Packham, who also chairs the Patient Protection Commission. “They already have disruption with just seasonal influenza, much less trying to think about how they’re going to deal with or isolate patients that have tested positive and so forth in their current operations.”

That’s why health officials are spending so much time educating the public about the symptoms of the disease — typically cough and fever — and urging people to stay home, don’t go to school or work, isolate themselves from others and treat their symptoms with over-the-counter medications. For those who do require medical attention, doctors advise calling ahead so as to not unnecessarily expose health care workers on the frontline of fighting the coronavirus.

“What we are trying to do is make sure that we’re preserving our workforce so we’re not having self-inflicted wounds on the front end,” said Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick. “Then we will be working to have individuals if they are tested positive for COVID and they can isolate at home and don’t need hospitalization, our plan is to do that rather than to drive people toward the hospitals, and we would try to preserve their capacity for dealing with the more severe.”

And while Nevada does suffer from a physician shortage — the state ranks 48th in the nation for active patient care physicians per capita — experts say there isn’t much to be done about that right now.

“We have whatever we have. We’re not going to increase the number of physicians in Nevada in time to make any difference,” Murphy said. “We have to deal with what we’ve got.”

It’s not just doctors either. SEIU Local 1107, which represents 9,000 nurses and hospital workers throughout the state, is scheduling meetings with hospital administrators to discuss their preparedness plans for coronavirus.

“We’re going to bring our members, representatives, to make sure that the plan is something that is okay because the members, the nurses and the ancillary staff, they will know more what are the things that needs to be done in terms of how to be safe,” said Grace Vergara-Mactal, the union’s executive director. “We want to make sure that we are part of that preparedness plan and not just them creating it and just giving us a piece of paper.”

There’s also a concern that patients who need to be tested for COVID-19 won’t want to, for fear of the cost. To that end, the governor adopted an emergency regulation on Thursday barring state-regulated health from billing patients for visits to provider offices, urgent care centers or emergency rooms to be tested for the coronavirus.

“Countries like South Korean, Japan and even China where those cost considerations are not being weighed before you get medical treatment are not getting in the way like they will here,” Packham said. “There will always be an element of that.”

The bad news is that the coronavirus appears to be highly transmissible and the World Health Organization has pegged the global fatality rate at 3.4 percent. The good news is that experts predict that the fatality rate will likely decrease over time because the milder cases, including those with few to no symptoms, are probably going undiagnosed — particularly in the U.S., where testing has been limited.

“What proportion of people with this virus never get sick, just get immune — that may be a large percentage,” Murphy said. “We know of those who get sick, 80 percent have mild disease, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg. There may be a much larger portion of infected persons who never get sick.”

In the meantime, experts are reminding people to wash their hands, clean frequently touched surfaces, avoid shaking hands with others and stay home from school and work if symptomatic. Not only are they good measures for preventing the coronavirus, they said, but also the seasonal flu, which has already claimed 35 lives in Clark County this season. 

“A lot of sick people come in, retirees, they fly all over the world,” Carrison said. “I just have to do the things that I know work — wash your hands and if you’re sick, don’t go to work.”

“I think I’ve had a flu-like illness once in the last three to five years and all I do is see sick patients,” Carrison added. “I’m certainly not superman.”

Southwest Airlines flight departs McCarran International Airport on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The tourism factor

The outbreak of the coronavirus in China served as a cautionary economic tale for Nevada from the get-go. Casinos in Macau closed for an unprecedented 15 days, tanking revenue in the process.

Bloomberg reported gaming revenue down by about 88 percent in February from last year, a slump that could hurt major Las Vegas companies in the first quarter given their Macau presence. Major Strip casino operators — Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts — all discussed the potential impacts of the coronavirus in annual report filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

In an annual filing dated Feb. 7, Las Vegas Sands reported that its Singapore and Las Vegas operations could also be “adversely impacted” if travel restrictions stay in place “or the global response to contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus escalates or is unsuccessful.”

Citing similar restrictions in Macau, MGM Resorts also predicted it could “see material declines in MGM China’s operating results during the first quarter of 2020 and potentially thereafter.”

“Additionally, to the extent that the virus impacts the willingness or ability of customers to travel to our properties in the United States (due to travel restrictions, or otherwise), our domestic results of operations could also be negatively impacted,” MGM Resorts said in its Feb. 27 filing.

Some properties have taken steps to address the coronavirus with employees and guests.

A spokesperson for Wynn Resorts, which also noted the coronavirus in a February federal filing, referred The Nevada Independent to a website it created with information about the virus. The website says the gaming company is consulting with a public health expert from Georgetown University Medical Center, mandating a stay-at-home policy for workers and sanitizing door knobs, elevator buttons, handrails and other touchpoints at an increased frequency.

“Just like you, we are closely monitoring new developments regarding the coronavirus, and we are taking every proactive step to make Wynn a haven in these uncertain times,” the site says.

On Friday, MGM Resorts also released a statement saying that although the risk to the broader public remains low, it “implemented temporary enhanced cleaning procedures and protocols.”

Those measures include placing hand sanitizer stations in heavily-trafficked areas, increasing disinfecting procedures and providing information to guests and employees about prevention.

What the industry can’t control, however, is actual visitation. Several high-profile organizations have canceled upcoming meetings, conferences or conventions in Las Vegas. A special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, planned for mid-March, was canceled. Organizers of the 2020 NXT Global Summit, which focuses on the future of how people live and work, also canceled the mid-July event.

“Although our event is still a few months away, it is clear that our sponsor and exhibitor partners, as well as ticket holders, are making the choice to forego any and all large-scale events for the foreseeable future and it is simply not tenable for us to launch our event in this climate,” the organizers said in a statement posted to their website. ”Therefore, in keeping the health and wellbeing of our attendees as well as our own team in mind, we have decided we will cancel the 2020 NXT Global Summit and continue planning for our expanded 2021 event.”

At least two other conferences — Adobe Summit and Magento Imagine and Atmosphere 2020 — canceled their in-person gatherings in Las Vegas and, instead, announced virtual events.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority hasn’t released a full list of cancellations, saying it could only speak for events happening at the Las Vegas Convention Center, not ones occurring at individual casino-resort properties. But announcements by event organizers indicate that cancellations or postponements haven’t become a sweeping standard within the industry.

A major construction trade show known as CONEXPO-CON/AGG is proceeding with its March 10-14 event. The organization’s website encourages attendees and exhibitors to stay home if sick but also notes 18,000 new people have registered since Feb. 21.

ASD Market Week, the nation’s largest consumer merchandise trade show that meets twice a year in Las Vegas, is doing the same. Organizers weighed the current health circumstances with the long-term economic consequences for the many small- to medium-sized businesses that rely on attending the March 22-25 event. 

“It’s a really fine line, and it’s a really difficult decision, but we’ve made the decision to proceed ahead,” said Lori Silva, executive vice president of retail for Emerald, which organizes ASD Market Week. “We feel like we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of everybody.”

But she noted that decision is subject to change if the coronavirus situation worsens in Las Vegas.

“If there was a massive cluster going on, yes, we’d have to take a step back and revisit whether that balance of short-term safety and long-term economic safeties is still right,” she said.

Likewise, the Republican Jewish Coalition has not scrapped its annual leadership meeting, including an address from President Donald Trump, planned for mid-March in Las Vegas.

Matt Brooks, the coalition’s executive director, said the decision heeds the Trump administration’s advice to go about normal routines while following basic hygiene prevention methods.

“We are giving all of our attendees a little bottle of Purell,” he added.

A shelf that normally holds toilet paper sits nearly empty inside a Target store in Henderson on Friday, March 6, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The proceed-as-normal mindset appears to be prevailing in the sports world as well — at least for now.

The NFL did not respond to an emailed request for comment, but a league spokesperson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Thursday that the NFL had made no plans to cancel the draft. That follows an announcement the league made Tuesday that, while it continues to monitor developments, was making no plans to cancel the draft or any other offseason events. 

The Raiders also did not respond to a request for comment, though a statement provided to The Nevada Independent from the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team — which routinely draws more than 18,000 fans to home games — said the organization plans to continue normal operations. 

“We are closely monitoring the situation while following recommendations and guidance from the CDC and NHL. At this time, we are continuing our normal operations,” the statement said. “We advise our fans, program participants and staff to continue employing the same precautions they do during cold and flu season, encourage them to stay home if they feel sick and frequently wash hands thoroughly as they would do to avoid any communicable illness."

The NHL released a statement Wednesday that it was continuing to monitor the virus’ spread and draw up contingency plans ahead of the league’s playoffs next month. But the quick spread of the disease in countries such as Italy and Japan has intensified scrutiny of everything from soccer games to the Olympics. 

And in Washington state, where the coronavirus spread has been most acute in the U.S., season ticket sales for a soon-to-come NHL team in Seattle have been postponed amid lingering questions over the virus’ short-term effects.

Even so, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the travel, hotel, airline and retail industries tried to assuage consumer fears during a news conference Wednesday.

“Our response has to be grounded in fact and not fear,” Chamber Chief Executive Tom Donohue said. “What we’re telling our members...is the same advice we are following ourselves. Be prudent, be prepared and don’t overreact. We should be guided by the facts and the advice from medical experts and the federal, state and local officials who are dealing with this situation. That largely means business as usual with limited exceptions.”   

The U.S. Travel Association projects international inbound travel to the U.S. will fall 6 percent over the next three months as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and will cost the U.S. economy about $3 billion.

The decline would be the largest in international inbound travel since the 2008 financial crisis.

But Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, said he expects travel to snap back once the crisis abates.

“There's going to be a short term, a few folks, and I say a few relative to the masses, that will stay away, but it's going to pop up bigger than ever,” Dow said after the Chamber event. “And what happens is that they put off travel, they don't just say ‘I'm not going to do it.’ They say, ‘I'll do it, not this week, but I'll do it next.’ I'd be naive to say there's not going to be a small drop, but it's going to come back pretty fast.”

He also said that Chinese travelers are also starting to come back, which is an important market for places like Las Vegas. Traditionally, about 80 percent of Las Vegas visitors come from within the United States, while foreign tourists make up the other 20 percent.

Ultimately, Las Vegas’ reputation as the “escape capital of the world” may help during this period, Vassiliadis said. Domestic travelers who postpone elongated trips overseas may be more inclined to schedule a shorter getaway to Las Vegas.

 “This is where people come to leave their worries and burdens behind,” he said.

On the Las Vegas Strip, tourists who spoke to The Nevada Independent remained nonplussed — if not a bit more aware of how often they were washing their hands. 

“I’ve been reading about it, but it hasn’t been an issue where I live,” tourist Susanne York said. “Other than when my husband went to Costco to get toilet paper, they were all out.”

Updated March 8, 2020 at 10:45 a.m. to reflect a second case announced in Washoe County.

Updated March 8, 2020 at 2:55 p.m. to reflect a third case in Clark County.

Regulators approve special, renewable-based electric pricing deal between Raiders, NV Energy

A photo rendering of the Las Vegas Stadium

With roughly six months to go before construction of the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium is completed, the new Las Vegas Raiders have finalized a deal to power their new home through a unique, discounted and renewable-based electric rate provided by NV Energy.

The proposed contract and pricing system were given a thumbs up from the state’s Public Utilities Commission in a draft order released last month and was officially approved on a 2-0 vote during the commission’s Wednesday meeting. 

Approval commits the stadium and team administrative and practice facilities to a long-term, discounted electric supply arrangement with the utility, through a new and limited system only available to a handful of other large energy-users.

It’s also another win for the state’s primary electric utility, which has spent a significant portion of the last two years backing policies to make it more difficult for large customers to leave utility service while also offering direct cash payments to woo municipalities into staying as electric customers.

In a statement, NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said the utility was pleased to have developed a "customized energy solution" for the team that would see them served with the equivalent of full renewable power.

"We appreciate the thorough review of this agreement by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, the Regulatory Operation Staff of the PUCN and the Bureau of Consumer Protection to achieve an end result that is not only good for the Raiders, it will benefit all NV Energy customers and support the growth of the southern Nevada economy," she said in an email sent after the PUC voted to approve the order.

The adopted contract settles a roughly 16-month saga that initially saw the Raiders file to leave NV Energy in September 2018 through a state law allowing large power users to depart the utility and purchase power from an alternative electric supplier, after paying a usually substantial “impact fee” to hold other utility customers harmless. 

The “704B” law (named for its place in the Nevada Revised Statutes) has also been used by major businesses in the state, including MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts, but was substantially overhauled in the 2019 Legislature.

The Raiders won approval to contract with an outside electric provider in late January 2019, but the team — through an affiliated business — filed paperwork in May requesting delays in compliance requirements, a hint that the organization was reconsidering leaving the utility. Stadium construction is expected to be completed by July 31, 2020.

In October 2019, the team and NV Energy filed an application with the commission for a proposed contract and pricing system — dubbed “MPE,” for “Market Price Energy tariff” — that would see the team receive discounted “market-based” electric rates for a period of 25 years, based on power produced by future solar and battery generation power plants.

The “MPE” pricing structure will have an initial phase-in period prior to construction of new renewable generation, expected to be finished by the late third or early fourth quarter of 2023. Initially, power for the stadium and team facilities would come from energy bought by the utility on the wholesale market or excess capacity from NV Energy’s current fleet of power plants. 

The contract also requires NV Energy to purchase and retire “Green-e Credits” in an amount offsetting the Raiders’ overall electric use. (Green-e is an environmental standards service that verifies clean energy sales.)

Once the renewable energy facilities are built, the contract switches to a new pricing structure with a fixed, flat per-megawatt energy cost based on market prices, and includes the price of natural gas transportation and to procure enough credits under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to offset all electric facility consumption by the Raiders. The actual price of power is redacted in documents filed with the PUC.

The commission’s draft order contains some differences from the initial application filed by NV Energy and the Raiders, including a listed prohibition on current utility customers or businesses taking electric service from an alternative provider from enrolling in the new system. It also clarifies that any future “MPE” applicants would need to have their rates and charges set in an energy supply agreement, which will require PUC approval.

It also allows the stadium to escape paying all public program costs save the Economic Development Rate Rider, but requires the team’s practice facilities to pay “all current and future” public program costs, including surcharges to help pay for renewable programs and low-income energy assistance. The stadium’s estimated payment for that public program surcharge is just $714 annually.

Despite the discounted rate and special pricing structure, NV Energy argued in paperwork filed before the commission that the arrangement would be beneficial overall because it would provide a stable source of revenue over an extended period of time and provides more renewable energy for the state. It also cited an analysis that the arrangement would benefit other customers by about $2.65 million over 25 years because of reductions in a deferred utility account.

The order will also require that NV Energy give 80 percent of any monetary proceeds from a “Customer Margin Benefit” agreement with the team to its other customers, and can itself keep 20 percent. It would be defined as a “negotiated amount that is charged in addition to the cost of energy in the short term and the cost of the renewable resource in the long term,” but the actual amount is redacted in documents filed with the PUC. The initial application called for a 50-50 split. 

As part of the contract, NV Energy agreed to not seek any “impact fee” assessed against the Raiders for departing normal utility service. The contract also includes provisions requiring the Raiders to remain with NV Energy as a full-service customer, with a limited ability to use “behind-the-meter” generation if it is only used by facilities that are not interconnected with the utility’s electric grid, do not reduce the organization’s electric load by more than 1 percent and “does not diminish the perception that NV Energy is the Raiders Facilities electricity provider.”

Updated at 10:51 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29 to reflect that the Public Utilities Commission adopted the draft order during their meeting. Updated again at 3:37 p.m. to include a statement from NV Energy.

Water authority delays $30 million, 10-year marketing contract with Raiders; seeks input from advisory group

Photo rendering of Las Vegas Stadium

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is delaying action until at least next year on a proposed decade-long, $30 million advertising contract that would see the public agency become a major advertiser at the future Las Vegas Raiders’s Allegiant Stadium.

Scott Huntley, an executive with the water authority, said Monday that the SNWA’s executive team had decided to move the proposed contract from the authority’s Thursday meeting and instead kick it to a January meeting of a citizen’s advisory board.

The initial version of the proposed contract would have seen the water authority pay an annual $2.5 million (with an annual 4 percent increase) to the still-under-construction Allegiant Stadium, which will house the National Football League’s Raiders franchise beginning in 2020. The construction cost of the stadium is partially financed by a 0.88 percent hotel room tax that funds a $750 million chunk of an estimated $1.9 billion cost, approved by lawmakers in a 2017 special session of the Legislature.

The contract would have made the water authority a “founding partner” with exclusive physical, television and radio advertising privileges in the new stadium, but would have marked a major expansion of the agency’s marketing and advertising budget. The water authority’s overall marketing budget for water compliance and conservation is roughly $4.9 million a year, and a spokesman for the authority said in an earlier interview that it spent only about $500,000 total in other advertising arrangements with sports teams at UNLV, minor league baseball team Las Vegas Aviators, Las Vegas Lights FC and the National Hockey League’s Golden Knights.

Huntley said the authority’s leadership had decided to take input from a recently re-formed advisory committee — composed of business and labor leaders, conservation advocates and economists — before making a decision on the contract. 

“They would like to have them consider and make a recommendation regarding moving forward in this way to the board, and then consider it after the advisory committee gets a chance to make that recommendation,” Huntley said.

The board that will take the contract under advisement is called the Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Committee, which held its first meeting under its current membership in October and will include discussion on the proposed contract during its meeting in January, where it will discuss water conservation issues. The 11 members of the committee include:

  • Ken Evans of the Urban Chamber of Commerce
  • Peter Guzman of the Latin Chamber of Commerce
  • Boulder City resident Carol Jefferies
  • Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi
  • Paul Moradkhan of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce
  • Tom Morley of Laborers Union Local 872
  • Bob Murnane of GC Wallace Engineering, on behalf of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association
  • Jonas Peterson, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance
  • Phil Ralston of American Nevada Company
  • John Restrepo of RCG Economics
  • Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resorts Association

The proposed contract would have given the water authority wide advertising and marketing privileges — digital and physical advertising space on TV, radio and social media in both English and Spanish, sponsorship of a two-minute warning, broadcast rights for the football team’s final non-nationally televised preseason game as well as exclusive advertising rights throughout the stadium’s bathrooms. Huntley estimated that the contract would bring an estimated 169 million impressions yearly and help the water authority bring its conservation message to a larger and more diverse audience than a traditional marketing campaign.

But news of the contract attracted opposition from a variety of groups, from the libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute to dyed-in-the-wool Democratic Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who made his concerns with the deal known on Twitter.

“The simplest way to conserve water is to charge more and make the rates more progressive - subsidizing rates with sales tax revenue and then spending $ on advertising to encourage conservation seems counterintuitive,” he tweeted on Saturday.

Updated at 4:37 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22 to reflect that Bob Murnane is representing the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association.

Water authority would pay $30 million to Raiders under proposed decade-long advertising contract for water conservation

Rendering of football stadium to the left of I-15 in Las Vegas

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is proposing a 10-year marketing deal with the future Las Vegas Raiders that will pay the NFL franchise more than $30 million in tax dollars over the next decade, enabling the agency to use team logos and place advertising in the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium.

The deal, which is up for approval at the water authority’s board meeting on Thursday, is worth $2.5 million with an automatic annual four percent increase that will see the annual payment top out at about $3.5 million by 2029.

Scott Huntley, a public services senior manager with the authority, said that the marketing contract price was the same for a group of roughly 20 “founding partners” including Caesars Entertainment, Desert Ford Dealers and Cox Communications that have initial advertising rights at the Allegiant Stadium, which is partially funded by $750 million in Las Vegas hotel room taxes. 

Huntley said the Raiders had contacted the water authority’s general manager John Entsminger about potentially advertising in the new stadium earlier this year, and that the two sides have been in contract negotiations since July. 

The proposed contract is a major expansion of the SNWA’s marketing budget with professional sports teams; agency spokesman Bronson Mack said the water authority’s advertising budget with UNLV, minor league baseball team Las Vegas Aviators, Las Vegas Lights FC and the National Hockey League’s Golden Knights is only about $500,000 in total. SNWA’s total advertising campaign for water compliance and conservation is roughly $4.9 million a year, he said.

But Huntley said the proposed advertising contract would reap many positive water conservation benefits for the authority, including an estimated 169 million impressions and would help SNWA target a larger and more diverse audience of Raiders fans than a normal marketing campaign or through partnerships with other sports teams.

“It is a big, big audience and it is an audience that we very much would like to get to,” he said.

The contract gives the water authority wide advertising privileges — focused on water conservation and restriction programs — at the stadium and during NFL games, including the ability to place English and Spanish television ads for games controlled by the Raiders and other ads during other team television and social media programming. 

The contract buys the regional water authority digital and physical advertising spaces on TV, radio, social media and physically at the stadium, including the sponsorship of a two-minute warning, a large sign in the stadium’s main concourse and a “marquee signage package” allowing SNWA material to appear on a team-operated billboard near the stadium on Interstate 15.

On the digital side, the contract affords the SNWA branding and a rotating advertisement on the team’s desktop, tablet and mobile sites (plus the team’s official app) with an entitlement of 1 million impressions a year, plus rights of up to 250,000 15-second pre-roll advertisements on the team’s digital platforms. It also guarantees a full page color advertisements in the team’s gameday magazine.

The water authority would also be designated as the “presenting sponsor” of the team’s final non-nationally televised preseason game. The contract also allows the water authority to have advertising privileges in bathrooms throughout the upper and lower concourse of the stadium; something Huntley said was advantageous given the connection to water in bathrooms and the presence of a “captive audience.”

“We like to use a lot of humor in our advertising and the jokes in bathrooms almost write themselves,” he said.

The contract will also give the authority license to potentially use Raiders players in advertisements — something that SNWA used to great success with Golden Knights fan favorite Ryan Reaves in a television ad with more than 117,000 views on YouTube. Mack said the agency had the “exact intention” to use the Raiders in the same way in future advertising and marketing material.

“We're hit with over 5,000 ads and messages a day as Americans from media, and you only have that 1.3 (to) 1.5 seconds to capture that attention and get that message through and cut through the noise,” he said. “And that's one of the things that Ryan Reeves really helped us do, because those ads are so over the top, and really kind of silly...but those ads are cutting through the noise and they're getting people to stop (and) listen to the message.”

Mack added that the water authority had found in research that in residential homes, the individual most often responsible for setting or changing the sprinkler clock is a male, making sports advertising (and its predominantly male audience) suitable for conservation messaging.

“Utilizing sports and communicating through sports is just a great way for us to reach that target demographic,” he said.

The contract also gives the SNWA the ability to use various designations, including “Official Water Conservation Partner of the Raiders” and “Official Water Conservation Partner of Allegiant Stadium.” 

Additionally, the contract requires the Raiders to annually donate $600,000 for the installation or upgrade of two Clark County School District football fields from grass to synthetic turf. The school district will select which fields to upgrade. The contract allows the Raiders to make “reasonable efforts” to secure NFL grants for similar donations and for the schools to use turf previously used by the Raiders.

That portion of the contract also requires the Raiders to invite a “mutually agreed number” of SNWA Youth Advisory Council for a tour of the stadium, including an appearance by a Raiders executive, a catered meal and a social media post by the team.

The SNWA will also receive some other benefits through the contract, including guaranteed annual appearances by six Raiders alumni, six appearances by at least two Raiderettes and three appearances by the Raider’s mascot. The appearances are limited to an hour, must be in Clark County and specific alumnus and Raiderettes are up to the team’s discretion.

The contract also gives the SNWA an annual $100,000 “Activation Fund” credit, which can be used to purchase stadium tour tickets, rental of the team’s practice facility, advertising inventory and other “mutually agreed inventory.” The water authority is the latest public agency in the state to become financially involved with the Raiders, who agreed to move to Las Vegas after state lawmakers in 2016 approved allocating $750 million in hotel room taxes to fund construction of the stadium.

The city of Henderson gave the football team a $6 million discount on a sale of unused land for the team’s headquarters in early 2018, and NV Energy — the state’s incumbent electric monopoly — reached a deal with the football team in October for a specially designed, discounted electric rate model for stadium operations.

Daniel Rothberg contributed to this story.

Raiders reverse NV Energy departure, reach renewable electric supply deal with utility

A man waiving a Raiders flag on a sidewalk

In a major victory for NV Energy, the electric utility has filed a proposed contract with utility regulators to provide a new, reduced-rate pricing system for the Raiders’ stadium and team facilities, reversing earlier plans for the football team to operate independently of the state’s largest electric utility.

In a pair of filings made last week with the Public Utilities Commission, NV Energy laid out a proposed contract and new pricing structure with the under-construction Allegiant Stadium, plus Raiders administrative and practice facilities, that would commit the team to a discounted, long-term energy arrangement with the utility, based on recently proposed solar and battery storage generation projects. Notably, the proposed pricing structure would also be available to the handful of businesses that have won PUC approval to leave the utility but are not yet receiving electric service from another provider.

Although the proposed contract and pricing system — dubbed “MPE,” for “Market Price Energy tariff” — still require PUC approval before moving forward, the filings pull back the curtain on NV Energy’s attempts to prevent an exodus from the utility of the Raiders and other large, under-construction projects.

The Raiders initially filed to leave NV Energy as a customer and instead power the team’s $1.9 billion stadium with electricity procured through an alternative supplier in September 2018 — following in the footsteps of several large Nevada businesses, including MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and others who filed and received permission to depart the utility as a full-service customer. 

“NV Energy is honored to be the energy supplier for the Raiders and their new home at Allegiant Stadium,” utility spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in an email. “The company filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada the energy supply agreement as well as a new tariff that would allow us to provide new service options to new companies, like the Raiders, that are locating in Nevada.”

Those companies and more than a dozen others had used a portion of state law, often referred to as “704B” after its chapter in the Nevada Revised Statutes, to depart the utility and purchase power from other providers, but only after filing an application with utility regulators and usually paying a seven-figure “impact fee” to minimize the effect on other customers of NV Energy. Nevada lawmakers substantially overhauled the 704B process during the 2019 Legislature, but exempted more than a dozen companies with pending applications from having to follow the new, more complex system for departing the utility.

The Raiders won approval from the Public Utilities Commission to contract with an outside electric provider in late January, but the team — through an affiliated business — had filed paperwork in May requesting delays in compliance requirements, hinting that the team was reconsidering leaving the utility. The stadium is expected to be completed by July 31, 2020.

The contract, as written and submitted to the Public Utilities Commission, would provide “market-based” electric rates to the Raiders’ stadium and practice facility in Henderson for a period of 25 years, depending on whether the commission approves the pending tariff structure and other pending power purchase agreements.

The proposed “MPE” pricing structure works like this: NV Energy would offer two “energy supply” periods, the first in place until proposed renewable power purchase agreements would be approved and constructed (estimated for the late third or early fourth quarter of 2023). 

In the short term, the utility would provide electricity either from energy procured from the wholesale market and “based upon market index pricing” or from excess capacity from the utility’s current generation fleet, with the utility promising to procure and retire “Green-e Credits” in an amount equal to the Raiders’ overall electric consumption (Green-e is an environmental standards service that verifies clean energy sales).

This so-called short-term supply plan also includes a “best-price guarantee” for transmission costs, in essence a cost comparison between this proposed plan and the costs of the utility’s distribution-only customers, with contractual language allowing the team to receive credits and the chance to reassess rates if their transmission costs are higher than distribution-only costs.

But once the renewable energy generating facilities are constructed, the “MPE” pricing structure transitions into a fixed, flat per-megawatt energy cost (the price is redacted in documents filed with the PUC).

“The fixed price is calculated by modeling the forecasted electric consumption of the Raiders Facilities overlaid upon prices the Company will pay under power purchase agreements for renewable solar and collocated battery energy storage facilities recently executed and proposed for Commission approval by (NV Energy),” the company wrote in the filing.

The flat price in the long-term energy supply plan also includes the cost of natural gas transportation and for the cost of providing portfolio credits — an accounting term typically used to measure compliance with a Renewable Portfolio Standard — to account for “100 percent of the Raiders Facilities electric consumption.”

Both the short and long term energy supply plans pluck out surcharges that appear on most power bills, including rates for renewable energy programs, economic development, some public programs, the Base Tariff General Rate (surcharges to cover utility costs) and the Base Tariff Energy Rate (cost of fuel or purchased electricity).

In an attached white paper, the utility stated that the discounted electric prices for the Raiders and other applicable customers would benefit from the arrangement by providing “more stable planning assumptions,” and that it would build upon “Nevada’s continued leadership position in renewable energy, consistent with legislative policy and economic development objectives.”

“These resources serve as the foundation of a generation portfolio which provides for affordable and predictable customer bills, and shields customers from fuel and market volatility for decades into the future,” the utility wrote in the filing.

The benefits section also references a heavily-redacted “customer margin benefit,” included in the pricing for the short and long-term energy supply periods. Although details of this benefit are redacted, the utility states it will share this amount with other customers as part of a 50-50 split.

The “MPE” pricing structure is only available to companies with more than one megawatt of annual load, and who have won approval from the PUC to depart the utility without having been assessed an impact fee — or who win direct approval from the commission to take electric service through the new pricing system. The program isn’t available to customers who receive fully bundled electric service or are being served by an alternative electric provider.

As part of the contract, NV Energy agrees to “not pursue, recommend, support or advocate” before the commission any “impact fee” assessed against the Raiders for departing for normal utility service. The contract also includes provisions requiring the Raiders to remain with NV Energy as a full-service customer, with a limited ability to use “behind-the-meter” generation if it is only used by facilities that are not interconnected with the utility’s electric grid, do not reduce the organization’s electric load by more than 1 percent and “does not diminish the perception that NV Energy is the Raiders Facilities electricity provider.”

Those conditions mean that the pool of companies that could take advantage of the new system is relatively small — of the 14 entities that have filed exit applications since mid-2018, only three (hydrogen fuel plant Air Liquide, MSG Las Vegas and Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels) could presumably fit all of the requirements for the new pricing plan.

The pricing plan can be viewed in some ways as a replacement for the utility’s previously proposed alternative pricing mechanism — the Optional Pricing Program Rate (OPPR) — which it withdrew in the face of criticism from utility staff and the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, both of which expressed fears that it would unfairly benefit an arbitrary class of electric customers.

Tax the tourists, while you still can

The front of the US Supreme Court Building

Taxing tourists, if you’re a politician, is a win-win. You get the revenue you need to provide the services your constituents demand and, in return, you get to take that revenue from people who will never, ever vote against you. Unlike other taxes, where you have to balance people’s willingness to vote for better funded public services against their unwillingness to pay for them (sorry, Clark County School District), politicians can optimize for revenue maximization. 

Why does the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority collect a 13-13.5 percent tax on hotel stays? Why does Clark County charge similar rates? Simple: who’s going to stop them? Most local voters aren’t staying in local hotels, after all, and on the rare occasion when they do, it’s usually temporary. Consequently, hotel and gaming taxes are two of the most politically popular taxes to raise in Nevada, at least if you talk to voters instead of industry lobbyists. 

There’s just one small problem: What if tourist-targeted taxes are unconstitutional? 

This might sound unlikely at first glance, given how Nevada’s government has been historically funded. If taxing tourists is wrong, Nevada hasn’t been right since at least the Great Depression. However, the Constitution, via the Commerce Clause, implicitly prohibits states from interfering in interstate commerce — meaning, as tempting as it might be (some days) to build a wall on top of the Sierras and make California pay for it, Nevada does not actually have the right to prevent Californians from coming to Nevada to do business, nor vice-versa. Additionally, the Privileges and Immunities Clause prohibits states from applying laws against out-of-state residents that aren’t also applied to in-state residents. 

That is the argument being presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Saban Rent-A-Car v. Arizona Department of Revenue. Maricopa County, home to America’s favorite presidentially pardoned ex-sheriff (one would think “law and order” conservatives in particular would have little patience for taxpayer-funded lawbreaking, but what do I know), had a problem. Phoenix’s sports facilities were out of date, and, as luck would have it, the Arizona Cardinals were every bit as interested in paying to upgrade them as the Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Las Vegas Paradise Raiders were to upgrade theirs (namely, not at all). Trouble is, taxpayers, at least those outside of Nevada, are getting wiser about the hazards of throwing billions of taxpayer dollars into public stadiums that have shorter shelf lives than most apartment complexes. 

No problem, thought Maricopa County. We won’t tax constituents. We’ll tax tourists instead.

With an assist from the Arizona Legislature, Maricopa County passed a tax on short-term car rentals and hotel stays, two services far more popular with out-of-state tourists than with Phoenix residents. It was, incidentally, wildly successful. By all accounts, at least three-fourths of the revenue collected by the tax collected was from out-of-state visitors. There was much rejoicing

The rejoicing stopped when Saban Rent-A-Car sued the Arizona Department of Revenue. The rejoicing turned to panic when Saban Rent-A-Car won and demanded its money back. The panic turned to muted relief when the Arizona Department of Revenue won its appeal in the Arizona Supreme Court, which brings us to where we are today. 

If the logic of using tourist-focused taxes to pay for stadiums sounds awfully familiar, it should. In a contentious special session in 2016, the rare Republican majority in both houses of the Nevada Legislature decided their last act would be the passage of two tax increases. One of those tax increases was a fairly explicit tourist-targeting tax of hotel room stays within 20 miles of what will soon become Allegiant Stadium. The plan — economically unlikely under the rosiest of predictions — was to attract Raiders fans to Las Vegas, who would then stay in Las Vegas hotels, pay the increased room tax, and thus pay for their favorite team’s stadium. 

As things stand, funding for the stadium is already shaky. Room taxes weren’t as high as originally projected through much of 2018, and, if the numbers improved, surely one of Las Vegas’ newspapers would happily trumpet them as they did during the one month when they exceeded expectations. Additionally, per the state’s agreement with the Raiders, Nevada can’t target Raiders fans for additional tax hikes. If — and, admittedly, this is a big if — the Supreme Court agrees with Saban Rent-A-Car that tourist-targeted taxes violate the Commerce Clause, it will financially capsize Nevada just by way of the billion dollar commitment to the stadium.

As for the rest of our state government’s commitments, now would be a good time to take a good, hard look at how much government we’re willing to pay for ourselves — and how much we’re willing to accept as long as tourists pick up the tab. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org.

Indy Q&A: U.S. Attorney Nick Trutanich on sex trafficking, marijuana and public corruption

Nicholas A. Trutanich, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada and Ray Johnson, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Scores of first responders, victim advocates and local and federal law enforcement personnel crammed into a lecture hall in Reno last week to exchange information on how to tackle the issue of human trafficking.

Speakers walked attendees through everything from the signs that a massage parlor is a front for an illegal brothel to an overview about the steps law enforcement is taking to respond to such cases. The issue has garnered greater attention in recent years, with Nevada lawmakers passing several bills in recent sessions aimed at curbing the practice.

One of the faces at the forefront of efforts against human trafficking is Nick Trutanich, U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada, whose office is tasked with investigating many such cases.

The Nevada Independent caught up with Trutanich at the seminar to discuss the challenges of those prosecutions, as well as his office’s priorities on marijuana enforcement and recent, high-profile public corruption cases.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: The federal Department of Justice worked to convict 526 people nationwide for human trafficking last year. Do you think that reflects the true scope of the problem, or is it much bigger?

A: With respect to human trafficking, as awareness is raised, both in law enforcement and in the community, we're seeing more reports of human trafficking, more investigations and more prosecutions. Prosecutions have grown exponentially in the Department of Justice nationwide, 82 percent in the last four years compared to the four years before that. So I submit that with respect to trafficking, as public awareness raises, we're going to send more and more prosecutions.

Q: How many prosecutions have there been in Nevada?

A: The office prosecutes about one to two human trafficking cases a year. These cases are resource-intensive, not only from the trauma-informed prosecution side — making sure that the victim, the survivor of human trafficking, has the resources that he or she needs to make a better life for … him or herself afterwards. But also from the investigatory and prosecution side. These criminals, these traffickers, do this in the shadows. They don't interact, typically, with the johns. They have the person being trafficked do that. They do those negotiations. And so they … also manipulate, through force, fraud and coercion, their victims. And so all of that leads to a very resource-intensive case, which quite often ends in a trial, which is also resource-intensive. So we have a small office, it's a priority area. The department considers it a priority area as seen by the numbers. 

Q: The Raiders are coming to Las Vegas, the city is growing, and a lot of big events are expected to come to town. Do you expect this will draw more trafficking?

A: Both anecdotally and through the academic literature about human trafficking, it's clear that special events typically draw human traffickers and their victims because of the demand side for these problems. So far our strategy with respect to any special events in law enforcement and working with NGOs is to raise awareness and make sure that if you see something, say something and be vigilant to investigate around these events … The good news in Nevada when it ... comes to special events is we have buy-in from industry. We have decals on every stall in every bathroom in the airport to make sure that trafficking victims have the tools that they need to exit the life. 

Q: What is the typical situation in which you see trafficking occur? Is it in massage parlors? Motels?

A: There's certainly an issue with respect to labor and human trafficking in various industries throughout the state. I'll go back to the last prosecution that our office did. This was an individual with ties to criminal enterprise, ties to gangs. Gangs are using human trafficking as a way to fund their criminal enterprises. Unlike narcotics and drugs, gang members, traffickers, can resell a human victim over and over and over again, making that victim a profit center. So in that particular case, it's the Brandon Pruitt prosecution … He trafficked a 14-year-old girl, started in California, brought her over to what we call ... a prostitution track in Las Vegas, and through force, through fraud, through coercion, this particular victim was trafficked. She testified in trial to a rape that one of her johns committed against her and then a subsequent beating by the defendant for his conduct. The court sentenced him to 25 years. 

Q: There’s a huge crowd at this human trafficking seminar. It seems there is a lot of interest in this topic and resources from the federal government, which has produced posters raising awareness about sex and labor trafficking. Why do you think it’s become a growing priority for law enforcement?

A: With respect to resources, in 2017 the department issued $47 million in grants. You have the DHS Blue Campaign that is out there and it should be required reading for everybody in the service industry to make sure that if you see something, say something. It has signs and indications and factors that people should look out for for trafficking victims. With respect to why trafficking is so important, it’s modern day slavery … Despite the fact that these investigations and cases are hard to build, the Department of Justice considers it a priority and is dedicating resources to it throughout the country, not just in Nevada. 

Q: Why is it so hard to build these cases?

A: The reason it's so hard is the control that these traffickers have. The victims, if you talk to survivors of human trafficking, they'll tell you that not only are they scared of their trafficker because of the force and coercion used by that trafficker, but they also are recruited into the life through words of love and manipulation, making the way that the traffickers and victims interact very complicated. … It's a tool that traffickers use — to build their relationship with the victims to further insulate them from prosecution. 

Q: Do you believe there's any nexus between legal prostitution and Nevada brothels and sex trafficking?

A: What I'll say is the Department of Justice is going to attack and combat human trafficking wherever it is. And that's true throughout the state — Vegas, Washoe County, and in the rurals. 

Q: Can you say anything about whether there are any open investigations going on related to Dennis Hof, the former brothel owner and Assembly candidate who was accused of sexual misconduct by former employees and died last October?

A: I can't confirm or deny any ongoing or potential investigation. I appreciate the question, but I just can't go into that.

Q: What are your priorities related to marijuana? Should we expect any sort of a crackdown?

A: I do believe that there's a nexus between drug use and crime statistics. Obviously Nevada's not a safer place with just drugs generally available on every street corner. When it comes to my priorities, I'm focused on drugs that are killing people. Drugs like heroin, drugs like fentanyl, opioids, drugs like methamphetamines. Those are my priorities and we've been extraordinarily successful in the last few years focusing on those particular priorities. I believe no less than 12 medical professionals have been indicted and or sentenced since August 2017 by the US attorney's office when it comes to over-prescription and illicit prescriptions of opioids. I think that's where I'm gonna go.

Q: It appears the trend line for opioid deaths is starting to turn downward after decades of increases. Are you seeing that in Nevada?

A: There's certainly been a surge of resources, public awareness, investigatory resources at the state and local and federal level. I think you're right that we are making a difference and the statistics bear that out. That said, talk to the Yenick family, talk to the Nadler family in Las Vegas. The truth is one victim of an overdose by a doctor that's illegally prescribing to an addict is one death too many. Our office has a dedicated prosecutor on these cases, north and south. We're still investigating cases and we're still going to vigorously prosecute them because not only does it send a general deterrence [message] to medical professionals thinking that this is the path that they will follow, but it also sends a message to victims both past, present and future that the department is not taking its eye off the ball on this issue. 

Q: To what do you attribute this trend taking a turn?

A: We're making a difference in combating it because the issue has the attention of everyone. It has the attention of public officials at the local level, at the state level, and at the federal level, and that because of that attention, we've been able to raise public awareness. You also have nongovernmental agencies that are engaged in prevention. The Boys and Girls Club, various programs at the state level, they're all engaged in raising awareness to make sure that adolescents don't get hooked on these drugs and if they're prescribed them, lawfully know the dangers of addiction. So I think all of that has come together to sort of make a difference in this state and in the nation, though our fight is not over. I want to be clear about that. 

Q: The state has said it has no evidence of diversion, in which legal marijuana is illegally crossing state lines. Do you believe there has been diversion?

A: I look at facts, not based on my belief, and I'm aware of a public audit of the marijuana industry. We're monitoring that and looking at that, obviously, and so I hope that the regulatory scheme improves.

Q: When former Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty in March to misusing campaign funds, there was a statement made at a press conference by an IRS special agent in charge suggesting you were overseeing more than one public corruption case. Should we expect more shoes to drop as it relates to public officials?

A: I can't confirm or deny any ongoing investigation, you know that. But what I'll say is that public corruption is a priority area for the Department of Justice. Obviously, constituents need to have faith that their elected officials are doing right by the communities that they serve. The good news in Nevada is vast, vast majority of public officials are doing just that — serving with integrity, honesty, and humility. And I won't go further than that with respect to any other statements made by me or leadership in federal agencies.

SLS Las Vegas cleared to leave NV Energy, amid many applicants withdrawing from attempts to leave utility

The sign at NV Energy corporate headquarters

It took less than ten minutes for the three members of Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission to swat down a last-chance effort by NV Energy to raise the price of SLS Las Vegas’s ticket to depart the utility and purchase electric power from another provider.

The PUC’s quick discussion and 2-1 vote on Wednesday to deny NV Energy’s request to reconsider an earlier PUC order granting the casino’s request to depart the utility is perhaps the last nail in an effort by NV Energy to coax, delay or dispute efforts by nearly a dozen large companies to leave utility service.

Since mid-2018, 14 of Nevada’s largest businesses and government agencies have filed applications with the PUC under the so-called 704B process, which allows certain large businesses and government entities to leave utility electric service and purchase power on the open market, in return for a usually substantial “impact fee” calculated and charged by the commission to ensure other utility customers don’t face unexpected costs.

Although Nevada lawmakers approved a wide-ranging bill in the 2019 Legislature that added more restrictions and limits on the 704B process, the legislation exempted all businesses with pending applications before the Commission from the new restrictions and requirements, meaning that they’re able to leave under the old, less restrictive set of rules.

That possibility has concerned NV Energy, which has moved to dispute or seek higher exit fees for companies applying to leave their service, including filing several motions for the commission to reconsider its orders granting the applications over fears that granting all pending applications would cripple future load growth and cost its other customers millions of dollars. 

But their arguments have yet to sway a majority of the Commission, which wrote in the order denying NV Energy’s reconsideration petition for the SLS that their arguments were not valid.  

“Considering the fact that [NV Energy’s] petition merely repeats the same arguments that it put forth in its testimony, the Commission finds that [NV Energy] has presented no basis for altering the determinations contained in the order, which are clearly delineated therein and which are clearly supported by the evidence presented in this docket,” members of the commission wrote in the order.

But the utility company has moved in other ways to reel its largest customers back into the fold, including entering into contracts with the LVCVA, City of Henderson and the Clark County School District that included direct incentive payments to the government agencies in return for a promise to not leave utility service. 

We believe we are the best energy partner for SLS Las Vegas, and we are committed to providing them with customized solutions that address their unique business needs and provide added value,” NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in an email. “This approach to meeting customer needs has been successful in helping us retain our customers, and we will continue to work hard to retain the opportunity to be the energy provider for SLS Las Vegas.”

Of the 14 entities that filed to leave utility service since June of 2018, six have withdrawn their applications, seven have been granted the right to leave by the PUC, and one (the under-construction The Drew resort) is still pending. Here’s how the exit application status of each business or entity that has filed to leave the utility is currently faring:

The Drew (exit application filed in April 2019)

The unfinished $3 billion, 67-story The Drew Las Vegas (formerly Fontainebleau) is still under construction and isn’t expected to open until the second fiscal quarter of 2022. Still, the hotel’s management company Two Blackbirds Hospitality Management LLC filed an application to preliminarily leave the utility in April 2019. 

The application is still pending, and a procedural order issued by the Commission set a hearing date for August 29.

Cosmopolitan (exit application filed in February 2019)

The Cosmopolitan withdrew its application to leave NV Energy’s service in late May, just three months after filing to leave the utility. No order was filed in the case, but an “impact analysis” by staff of the PUC estimated that the casino company would need to pay a $4.739 million impact fee over six years, or a $3.96 million fee up front.

LVCVA (exit application filed in February 2019)

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority — which operates Cashman Field and the Las Vegas Convention Center — withdrew its application to leave the utility in May amid announcing a five-year energy services agreement with NV Energy. That contract includes yearly payments of $650,000 and a requirement the authority enroll in the utility’s special Optional Pricing Program Rate program if and when it is approved by the Commission.

No order was drafted or approved by the commission, but according to PUC staff’s final impact analysis, the agency would have needed to pay either $6.36 million over six years or $5.098 million up front to officially leave the utility (slightly less if the LVCVA did not go forward with its planned expansion).

Air Liquide (exit application filed in February 2019) 

This company, which plans to build a liquid hydrogen facility in Clark County that will transform methane into liquid hydrogen, was granted approval for its exit application earlier this month with no impact fee included. 

Air Liquide, which plans to ship the liquid hydrogen to a California fuel cell facility for use in fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen, will still be required to pay legislatively-mandated “rate riders” such as the Economic Development Electric Rate Rider, an electric bill rebate program granted to Tesla and other large businesses that relocate to Nevada.

Commercial operation of the plant is scheduled to begin by the third or fourth fiscal quarter of 2021.

SLS Las Vegas (exit application filed in December 2018) 

Wednesday’s decision by the PUC means the runways are cleared for SLS Las Vegas to leave NV Energy’s electric service, after filing to do so last year and having an initial order approved in May.

The casino, which shares an owner (Meruelo Group) with the Grand Sierra Resort, will need to pay a $1.279 million up-front impact fee in order to depart NV Energy.

Grand Sierra Resort (exit application filed in December 2018)

The Grand Sierra Resort withdrew its application to leave NV Energy in April, citing concerns raised by NV Energy in previous filings about a lack of transmission capacity in Northern Nevada. 

Although no order was issued in the case, the casino would have had to pay $2.122 million up front or $2.2234 million over six years according to a PUC staff analysis.

South Point Casino (exit application filed in December 2018) 

After filing to leave the utility last year, the South Point Hotel and Casino withdrew its exit application and announced a partnership with NV Energy in May. 

The application was withdrawn before an order approving or not allowing the exit to proceed forward could be drafted, but a PUC staff final impact analysis estimated the casino resort would need to pay an impact fee of $3.229 million over six years or $2.605 million up front.

Boyd Gaming (exit application filed in November 2018) 

Of the 14 companies that have filed to leave NV Energy over the last 12 months, Boyd Gaming remains the largest current electric customer that still plans to leave the utility.

Boyd’s exit application was granted in June, and the casino company — which operates 12 Nevada properties including Aliante, Fremont Hotel and Casino and the Orleans — will be required to pay a $10.681 million up-front impact fee or $13.099 million fee paid over six years.

MSG Las Vegas (exit application filed in October 2018) 

The planned 18,000-seat MSG Sphere at the Venetian is one of several major under-construction projects that applied and received an order granting an exit application from NV Energy without having to pay an exit fee. 

The application by MSG Sphere, a joint venture between the Madison Square Garden Company and the Las Vegas Sands expected to be completed between 2020 and 2021, was approved by the Commission with no impact fee in April. A separate reconsideration petition by NV Energy was filed but rejected by the PUC in late April.

Georgia-Pacific Gypsum (exit application filed in September 2018) 

This gypsum wallboard and plastic manufacturing plant was granted permission to leave NV Energy as an electric customer in February. The company is required to pay an impact fee of either $1.567 million over six years, or 1.289 million as an upfront payment.

Raiders’ Stadium (exit application filed in September 2018) 

The future football home of the NFL’s Raiders was granted approval to leave NV Energy’s service sans exit fee in early February, after filing to leave the previous year.

But the team filed an unusual request to the PUC in May, essentially asking to temporarily hold off on compliance with entering into electric service agreement with a third-party provider amid a pending alternative offer by NV Energy to enroll in a similar pricing program provided by the utility. That motion was granted by the PUC, giving the team and NV Energy until September to come to an agreement.

Atlantis (exit application filed in August 2018)

Although their application to withdraw NV Energy was granted in February, the Reno-based Atlantis Casino Resort Spa reversed and withdrew their exit application in late April as part of an agreement with NV Energy. The original order would have required the casino to pay a $1.756 million up front impact fee, or $1.959 million fee spread out over six years.

Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels (exit application filed in June 2018) 

Fulcrum, which plans to open a waste-to-fuel biofuels plant in northern Nevada in early 2020, received permission from the PUC in November to leave NV Energy’s service without having to pay any impact fee, despite a request from the utility to tack on a $6.3 million impact fee.

Station Casinos (exit application filed in June 2018)

After being assessed a $15 million exit fee (or $18.091 million up front fee), Station Casinos withdrew its exit application and announced a long-term deal to stick with NV Energy.

The company, which owns multiple properties in the Las Vegas area including Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa and Green Valley Ranch, was granted its exit application in September 2018, but requested and received a delay in May to consider alternative options from NV Energy.

Raiders reconsidering leaving NV Energy for future Las Vegas stadium's electric service

Photo rendering of Las Vegas Stadium

Months after receiving approval from state regulators to pre-emptively leave NV Energy’s electric service, the Raiders and their future stadium are re-considering leaving the utility.

According to filings made with the Public Utilities Commission over the last month, attorneys for the Raiders have requested and received permission to suspend compliance with the terms of the under-construction stadium’s departure from its planned exit from NV Energy in order to assess an alternative offer by NV Energy.

In a letter sent to the commission last week, the Raiders stated that after the Commission approved their requested “exit” from NV Energy and be granted the right to purchase electric service from another provider in January, the organization was approached by NV Energy to enroll in a special tariff program “similar to how service is provided under” the current process for companies that have left the utility, but with NV Energy still providing the electricity.

The request made by the Raiders was to suspend the current compliance requirements — which it argues are unnecessary as the stadium is still under construction — to give the organization time to consider the new proposal, details of which are likely to become public sometime in June.

“Instead, if the Commission considers the new tariff to be in the public interest, there may be a benefit to NV Energy and its remaining customers from the Raiders staying in the NV Energy system under such tariff,” attorney Curt Ledford wrote in a motion to the Commission.

In a draft order published Thursday, the commission agreed to the arguments made by the Raiders and will allow for the extension of compliance reporting out to September 2019. The commission granted the Raiders the ability to contract with an outside electric utility without having to pay any exit fee in late January, deciding against an NV Energy request that the team pay $7.3 million to avoid other costs rising for other customers.

"We continue to work closely with the Raiders on a solution that retains them as a fully bundled customer of NV Energy and appreciate their openness to evaluating the proposed new tariff," NV Energy spokeswoman Andrea Smith said in an email.

Although the pricing program offered to the Raiders has yet to be introduced to the commission, NV Energy has already opened enrollment to companies eligible to leave the utility under a new Optional Pricing Program Rate. It’s also reached agreements to continue service in past weeks with large customers including the Las Vegas Sands, the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Golden Entertainment and the South Point.