Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Reid stands by Berkley, not with NV Energy

Did you ever doubt that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could utter enough bon mots in a 15-minute interview to fill an entire column?

I didn’t, so here’s your Say It Ain’t So, Harry Friday Flash:

• Don’t worry, be happy with Shelley: During an appearance this week on “Nevada Newsmakers,” hosted by businessman Sam Shad and the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Ray Hagar, Reid had to confront tough questions right away about his favored Senate candidate, Rep. Shelley Berkley.

When Hagar asked Reid if Berkley could survive a probe into her alleged advocacy for her husband’s interests by the House Ethics Committee, he replied, “Of course she can … People understand the different quality of the candidates.”

Hear that, Sen. Dean Heller, you of the lesser quality?

When Shad jumped in and wondered about the ethics issue raised in the late ’90s when she worked for Gondolier Numero Uno Sheldon Adelson, Reid gave his trademark chuckle and said, “The situation with (Adelson) is a personal spat they had. It had nothing to do with ethics. They simply couldn’t get along anymore.”

There was no follow-up.

So while it is true that Adelson and Berkley had a falling out, Reid will never be mistaken for esteemed biographer Robert Caro when it comes to history, as Reid left out how serious the issue was.

Reid may be right that Berkley can surmount the issues — although if the ethics panel proceeds, it will be potentially fatal and Heller will use it all anyhow.

• Renewing his NV Energy friendship: I thought after Reid declared a few years ago on “Face to Face” that the power company’s rural coal plant would never be built — it wasn’t — and that they had mended fences. Maybe not.

On “Nevada Newsmakers,” Reid said he had chatted with Gov. Brian Sandoval about NV Energy not doing enough on renewable energy, that “we should be able to do more.” And this, as the Sun’s Cy Ryan first reported, “I don’t think NV Energy has done enough to allow renewable energy to thrive.”

Reid scoffed at the utility blaming purchase power agreements and added he had spoken to the members of the Public Utilities Commission about how he thinks “they (the utility) should do more.”

When I saw that, I was momentarily stunned. Was a U.S. senator acknowledging he had tried to interfere in a state regulatory process?

No, no, said his spokeswoman Kristen Orthman, he is “not interfering with the state regulatory process, but concerned about a slowdown in new projects and was trying to get clarity.” Ah. I bet the most powerful man in the state made that crystal clear.

The company was quick to point out after the “Nevada Newsmakers” segment that it had met the state’s renewable portfolio standard (15 percent in 2011) — 16.7 percent in the South and 24.9 percent in the North. But that’s not enough for Reid, Orthman told me:

“It is good that NV Energy has finally complied with the state’s RPS for the last couple of years, but Sen. Reid’s concern is not about the company meeting the bare legal minimum. His concern is about creating jobs by rapidly growing this important industry using Nevada’s vast natural renewable resources.”

Ah, yes, all those jobs. Five in Boulder City at that plant the president visited, I think.

Reid also tried to argue on the program that solar energy is not more expensive, which it demonstrably is, but ratcheted back later in the interview to say, “Every day that goes by, the ability to produce solar is cheaper.”

Such is the difficulty with the Democrats’ arguments on renewable energy — playing long ball when the immediate statistics don’t back them up, the jobs numbers aren’t great and scandals (Solyndra) will occur.

The reality is that Nevada — it’s sunny here most of the time — should be an energy exporter, which will be an economic booster — what Orthman called “a clean energy/hub leader.”

But job creator? Not so much.

Orthman also went further in taking on the power company, saying, “under the paradigm envisioned today by NV Energy, we aren’t going to need any new projects for 10 years (till 2022) which pulls the rug out from under clean energy in Nevada.”

The company, having learned from experience, wisely has declined to take on the senator directly. Who knows what project he might stop next? Or tell the PUC to block?

I kid. Really. I kid.

• Slow train to ... the West: There was a subtle but discernible change in Reid’s spin on the DesertXpress project, which I have nicknamed The Slow Train to Victorville. Reid dismissed maglev technology, then said the dialogue should be less about the Nevada to California leg and more about a high-speed rail network across the West.

Levitate that, critics.

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