Las Vegas utility controlled by Warren Buffett falsely touts free service


On the website of NVEnergy

The promotion was right there on the website of NVEnergy, Nevada’s major electric utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. “FREE POOL PUMP SUMMER CALIBRATION … Make sure you’re getting the most savings possible by having your pool pump calibrated for FREE!” Also on the page: an image of a fetching ready-to-party young woman with a raft and for some reason waving her arm–standing next to a pool pump, of course. (A screenshot is nearby.)

Great, I thought. The monthly electric usage at the New to Las Vegas world headquarters had gone up 50% over a year earlier, for no obvious reason. We have gas heat, so any colder weather during the past winter shouldn’t have been a big factor. I read somewhere that pool pumps–yes, we have a backyard pool–are often set to run too many hours a day at too high a speed and can consume ungodly amounts of juice. According to the promotion, the NVEnergy summer offer took effect April 1, just a week earlier. All praise Buffett, at age 93 the world’s sixth-richest person ($133 billion, according to Forbes)!

However, as I discovered when I tried to take advantage of the deal, there was a problem. Even though the offer is still up on the NVEnergy site at this writing in a downloadable PDF page, the service is no longer available generally, or at least not for free. NVEnergy farms out the work to a posted list of “approved pool pump calibrators” that electric users like me are invited to contact. But the several I called said the service was not free and would cost me $200 to $300.


I had spent several hours trying to figure out how to take advantage of the calibration program. Mainly, I called around the vast NVEnergy phone apparatus, waited on hold a lot, got switched a lot and was connected to folks who didn’t know squat about the program.

Eventually, I got some callbacks and some knowledgeable answers, including this shocker: The pool calibration program so proudly touted by the utility had plum run out of money.

NVEnergy has operated two pool calibration programs a year for about three years, a winter version and a summer version. There are a lot of pools out here in the hot Mojave Desert, and they suck up a lot of electricity. The program from the winter that just ended was wildly popular, with thousands of customers taking advantage of the free deal. NVEnergy paid a fee–I’m guessing $100 to $200–to their “approved pool pump calibrators” for each visit. So there was a NVEnergy budget, administered by a third-party vendor who also got paid, and the budgeted amount was quickly spent. In other words, the funding for the pool project went, uh, dry. It’s not clear to me when–or even if–it will be renewed. (To be fair, an NVEnergy agent said–presumably because I was so persistent and cited the still-posted promotion–that efforts would be made to find me a free pool calibrator.)

This is not my first strange run-in with Las Vegas utilities. In 2017, I actually had to file a formal Nevada Public Records Act request with the Las Vegas Valley Water District to get detailed water records to diagnose a possible serious water leak problem where I live. As a journalist for a half-century I have filed hundreds of public records requests with federal, state and local agencies across the country about important matters, so I know how to do this. But for my own water usage patterns? Since LVVWD is a governmental agency–it’s in effect owned by Clark County–the agency after balking eventually coughed up records I was seeking.

In the case of NV Energy, I welcome comments below from anyone with a view. There are, it seems to me, three important business lessons here.

–Be prepared for the possibility that policies will succeed.

–Improve credibility by removing bad information (the third-party vendor doesn’t control the NVEnergy web site, so that blame lies with the utility).

–Falsely promoting a free service helps one become the world’s sixth-richest person.

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