Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NVision... Fracking?

Over the course of the month, we've been seeking the truth behind the spin surrounding NV Energy and the bill (SB 123) it consumed. Fortunately, we haven't been alone. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission [PUC] also recently chimed in and questioned the numbers behind the estimated $494 million cost of NVision (aka the NV Energy possessed SB 123). They also questioned NV Energy's promise that NVision won't significantly increase electricity costs for consumers.

And funny enough, this nugget slipped out.

As [PUC Commissioner David] Noble said, ratepayers have helped build $3.5 billion in generating capacity in the past decade and gas prices have declined.

If NVision and its baked-in power plant construction regimen doesn’t pass, rates could decrease.

“Holding everything else constant, the next few rate cases may actually result in a rate decrease,” said Anne-Marie Cuneo, commission staff.

Yackira said this could also hold true if NVision becomes law. He said the commission is “really pointing to natural gas prices.”

“If those prices go down, our customers’ rates will go down,” he said.

Bottom line: Cheap natural gas is holding rates down now, coal is on its way out regardless of NVision, and the effect of the NVision plan won’t really be felt until new construction brings new costs to ratepayers several years down the road.

Aha! So NV Energy is basing its promises of lower (or at least not-significantly-higher) electric costs on "cheap natural gas". And come on, we all know what that means. Fracking is likely in the mix.

So what's the big deal here? Fracking has artificially held down the cost of natural gas extraction. And I say it's artificial because we see cheap natural gas, yet we're also increasingly seeing the high costs of decimated communities and ecosystems due to fracking.

This is why outrage has steadily been growing over the fossil fuel industry's sneaky ploy to frack across America. And this why we may soon see action to halt this next door.

"It's clear that we must heed the call from our concerned constituents and demand answers about the safety of fracking," said Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of Assembly Bill 1323.

A branch of the [California] Department of Conservation has released some draft regulations that would govern fracking, but lawmakers have criticized the proposed rules as too vague and lambasted the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources for moving too slowly.

"The lack of regulations in an environment that should be regulated is a recurrent theme," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, author of Assembly Bill 1301. "Public and scientific concerns have increased exponentially yet regulatory oversight lags behind."

Bloom said a moratorium would offer a needed window for study and would "get everyone to the table" to craft a framework for fracking.

"We must identify the risks and assure the public that we are doing everything in our control to protect them," Bloom said, "but to date the state has failed to do that."

In recent days, the fossil fuel industry has kicked into high gear to try to spin away all the worries over fracking. It's even gone as far as trying to silence the filmmaker behind the Gasland documentaries! Apparently, California legislators may finally be wisening up to fossil fuel industry spin.

Will our legislators do the same here? SB 390 doesn't even go that far. It only sets new regulations on fracking to fill the void left by the feds. (Then President George W. Bush pushed to exempt fracking from federal environmental safeguards in 2005.) And right now, it's sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, just waiting for action.

Funny enough, NV Energy hasn't said a peep about SB 390. Why not? NV Energy claims that NVision is all about expanding renewable energy opportunities right here in Nevada while closing the door on coal fired power plants for good. And to be fair, NVision does include plans for new solar plants while guaranteeing the closing of the Reid-Gardner coal plant near Moapa.

However with that being said, NVision calls for even more generation of natural gas power. And NV Energy executives have recently admitted to the PUC that their forecasts for lower consumer costs depend on "cheap natural gas". And as mentioned above, fracking technology has been artificially keeping natural gas costs low... While wreaking havoc on communities where this kind of extraction is occurring.

So what's the deal? How does NV Energy plan to access all the natural gas that NVision calls for? Does NV Energy have any ties to Noble Energy's pursuit of a fracking license in Elko County? What price will consumers ultimately pay for NVision if/when natural gas prices are not so artificially low? And why can't we accelerate both our economy and our commitment to solving the climate crisis by focusing more on the renewable energy bonanza that's right under our noses here in Nevada?

These questions need to be answered. #NVLeg, you're now on notice.

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