Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Clear NVision?

Last Friday, it looked like NV Energy essentially got its way as SB 123 was gutted and amended into NV Energy's own NVision plan. SB 123 had been a bill improving Nevada's renewable energy standards. But now, it's possessed by NV Energy's NVision.

Last Friday, it looked like NV Energy essentially got its way as the Senate Commerce, Labor, and Energy Committee unanimously agreed to sacrifice SB 123, allow it to be possessed by NVision, and send this radically altered bill to the Senate Finance Committee. However, Anjeanette Damon and Andrew Doughman are now reporting that the newly possessed SB 123 is facing challenges. And those challenges are coming from other powerful sources.

The gaming industry, the largest energy user in Southern Nevada and a powerful lobbying interest, has expressed serious concerns with the utility’s banner proposal, and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief policy adviser and legal counsel resigned in the wake of the governor’s decision to side with NV Energy on the issue.

Less than two weeks ago, the investor-owned utility unveiled a major new initiative to divest from coal-fired power generation and build new natural gas and renewable energy power plants. But NV Energy’s bill also asks the Legislature to lock in a 10-year plan that would require ratepayers to shoulder the costs of the plan and limit the Public Utilities Commission’s ability to oversee any associated rate hikes.

In a final, frenzied push Friday morning to move the bill through a critical committee deadline, NV Energy’s lobbyists met with Sandoval’s staff and major energy stakeholders, including gaming companies and renewable energy representatives.

Christening the proposal “NVision,” the utility had hoped to emerge from that meeting with a public statement of support from the gaming industry and others after reworking their bill to address both stakeholder and lawmaker concerns.

That joint support didn’t materialize. Instead, major industries are gathering intelligence and deciding whether they want to mobilize for what could be a protracted and expensive fight among some of the state’s most powerful industries and lobbyists.

“There are still serious concerns,” said one source familiar with the meeting, who described the gaming industry’s reaction.

Gaming companies are still trying to understand what the utility’s proposal does, how much it would raise rates and how much it would relax regulatory standards that could protect the gaming industry, and all ratepayers, from higher rates.

So there may yet be opportunities to take a closer look at SB 123-turned-NVision, and possibly to make changes where necessary. It looks like the big casinos are asking what they're paying for... And why. And their skepticism only helps everyone else who has concerns about this legislation.

Why is there such a rush to pass this altered bill when NV Energy needs no legislative approval to shut down the Reid-Gardner Coal Plant near Moapa? How does NV Energy plan to access the natural gas it wants for new gas fueled power plants? Is fracking part of the plan in any way? And why are consumers being asked to shoulder so much of the cost for NVision?

Some are also asking why Governor Brian Sandoval (R) rushed to signal his support for the NVision-possessed-SB 123. But really, that isn't a mystery. The lobbyist pushing this for NV Energy is none other than key Sandoval confidant and R&R power player Pete Ernaut. Need I say more?

We'll see if there will ultimately be enough pressure on NV Energy to provide honest answers to these questions. But if the gaming companies are this concerned about the altered SB 123, then NV Energy may be required to answer these tough questions. It's now just a matter of whether that classic R&R magic will be enough to end skepticism of NV Energy's new "vision".

We shall see.

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