Thursday, May 16, 2013

NVision in Flux

This has been one incredibly wild ride in Carson City. Early in the legislative session, SB 123. It was originally supposed to be a companion bill alongside SB 252 calling for a stronger renewable energy standard in Nevada. But then, NV Energy stepped in and turned everything on its head.

Early last month, NV Energy stunned everyone with its brand new NVision plan. NVision calls for an end to the Reid-Gardner coal fired power plant near Moapa along with more home grown renewable energy. And it ultimately supplanted the original language of SB 123. Still, we are talking about more clean energy here. So what's the problem?

Perhaps it's the uncertainty over the cost of NVision... And who will ultimately pay for it. NV Energy has promised consumers' electric bills won't be affected too much by NVision/SB 123. Yet despite the promises, opponents are now mounting a campaign to kill the bill. And they're even now receiving some very high-profile help.

“I see this as a consumer protection issue,” [Former Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue] Del Papa [D] said. “Never before has a bill been introduced that has such guarantees to shareholders.”

She said the bill’s provisions guarantee the utility a rate of return on the construction schedule detailed in the bill, which would be a boon to investors and a cost ratepayers bear.

Echoing concerns of the Public Utilities Commission, she said she worries that the bill would strip the regulatory agency of anything but cursory oversight of NV Energy, the regulated monopoly that provides power to most businesses and residences in the state.

What makes this even more fascinating is that this new coalition to defeat SB 123, the Nevada Consumer Protection Alliance, is a "strange bedfellows" coalition that includes Del Papa, the progressive Nevada Women's Lobby, the conservative Retail Association of Nevada, and others. Normally, these groups and individuals oppose each other. But on this, they all have a common cause.

And yesterday, they received even more high-profile assistance. Keep in mind (NV Energy's possessed version of) SB 123 pares back the role of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in overseeing and regulating NV Energy in the wake of the new NVision regime. So of course, Nevada PUC members don't like it one bit.

The commission voted unanimously to support the accelerated decommissioning of the plant — the target of complaints about air pollution — but object to other portions of Senate Bill 123, which would permit the utility to build other facilities without oversight of the state.

Commissioner Rebecca Wagner called the bill, now before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy, “more smoke and mirrors.”

Commissioner David Noble said the bill failed to “provide real protection for ratepayers.” Commission Chairwoman Alaina Burtenshaw called it a “huge gamble for ratepayers and shareholders.” [...]

Staff member Anne-Marie Cuneo told the commission there would be a “devastating balloon” payment in 2021. The bill, she said would have a significant impact on ratepayers.

Noble agreed, saying there would be a “huge impact” on ratepayers in 10 to 20 years.

Wagner said she supported the closure of Reid-Gardner and has been an advocate of renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal. But sections of the bill, she said, would give NV Energy a competitive edge over smaller companies in developing solar energy.

Ouch. This is getting awfully ugly awfully quickly. Key R&R power player Pete Ernaut has been working furiously to unite the entire gaming mining lobbying industrial complex behind the new SB 123. And while he did succeed in securing the backing of (key R&R political allies) Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), we've yet to hear from the gaming industry power players. Yet while they sit on the sidelines, these new strange bedfellows are filling the void to muck things up.

But wait, this story has taken yet another interesting turn. SB 123 has just been amended again. Many environmentalists had been concerned about the amount of natural gas fired power plant construction that NV Energy initially included in NVision. Wasn't this supposed to be about turning away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy? And does this mean NV Energy supports efforts to bring dangerous and dirty fracking to Nevada?

While the matter of fracking isn't directly mentioned in the amended language, it does pare back the amount of natural gas plants NV Energy originally called for while further beefing up renewable energy investment. As a result, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) has added her name as a co-sponsor while more environmentalists are stepping off the sidelines to join the Nevada Conservation League in supporting the new SB 123.

So we're seeing even more fascinating twists and turns with this bill. The usual left-right ideological divide in Carson City & DC has been scrambled here as the Nevada Conservation League & Nevada AFL-CIO join with R&R Partners and NV Energy to urge SB 123's passage. We also see this on the other side as Frankie Sue Del Papa and the Nevada Women's Lobby are now joining the Retail Association of Nevada to urge SB 123's defeat. The "new new SB 123" now has even less fossil fuel and more new renewable energy generation in its NVision, but consumer advocates are still fretting over the costs.

So what now? That's a good question.

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