Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What's Behind NV Energy's Latest Move?

Remember what happened in February? US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Don't Mess With Searchlight) addressed the Nevada Legislature... And asked them to fix the loophole in state law that's allowed the state's electric monopoly, NV Energy, to meet Nevada's renewable energy standard by buying hydroelectric power from Utah and occasionally handing out new light bulbs at Home Depot.

Ever since then, and especially with climate change returning to the headlines in recent weeks, NV Energy has been feeling the heat. So now, NV Energy is making a big announcement. Surprise, it will finally be investing more in homegrown renewable energy, along with investing in more natural gas power and shutting down the last of its coal fired power plants.

“I applaud the utility in having the foresight and the courage to try to answer the questions about the future of coal in Nevada and their willingness to recognize that coal needs to be exiting stage left,” said Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, who chairs the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee that could hear the bill if it passes the Senate. [...]

“In the coming weeks the Legislature is going to have some questions about how we get there so that it’s done in a way that’s going to be predictable and stable for ratepayers,” he said.

In place of coal, NV Energy wants to invest in a 60-40 split of natural gas and renewables.

NV Energy would construct, acquire or contract for 600 megawatts of renewable energy in Nevada during the next five years.

The bill mandates that the utility own or operate 25 percent of that renewable energy.

This would be the first time the utility would own and operate renewable energy power plants, [NV Energy Senior Vice President Tony] Sanchez said.

In addition, NV Energy is also planning to produce another 2,000 megawatts of natural gas powered electricity over the next 15 years. And it's all part of NV Energy's "NVision" plan... Which it's now offering as an amendment to SB 123, the bill offered by State Senator Kelvin Atkinson (D-North Las Vegas) and Assembly Member David Bobzien (D-Reno). It actually addresses what Harry Reid called for in February, which is updating and strengthening Nevada's renewable energy standard.

Does anyone think NV Energy executives suddenly decided to do this out of the goodness of their hearts? {Crickets.} Yep, me too. What's more likely is they were feeling the heat from Senator Reid, concerned about the increased controversy of Reid Gardner coal power plant near Moapa, and jittery over the prospect of SB 123 becoming law. So what else were they do to? All of a sudden, they're now rushing to invest in more renewable energy (and natural gas) in Nevada!

Of course, there are even more concerns regarding this sudden shift. For one, what's with all the natural gas? While it is cleaner than other fossil fuels, it still emits greenhouse gases along with other pollutants. And as of late, it's led to a huge controversy regarding its extraction. Is NV Energy looking to join the fracking fiasco? I wonder what NV Energy has to say about SB 390, Senator Tick Segerblom's (D-Las Vegas) bill calling for more regulation of fracking.

Another concern regards the cost... And specifically who pays for all of this. Will NV Energy try to use this to justify another rate increase? Will it seek some state funding for this program? That's another issue for legislators to examine further.

So NV Energy is now trying to get in front of calls for less dirty energy and more renewables. While it's great to see NV Energy agree to shut down Reid Gardner by 2017 and invest in more homegrown renewable energy, there are still unanswered questions that the Legislature must address. Again, how is NV Energy planning to pay for all this? How will it seek more natural gas? And will this truly be the start of a real transition from fossil fuels to renewables? Hopefully legislators will find the answers soon... And this will actually be something to celebrate.

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