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December 18, 2014

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Utilities:

Commission’s vote to oppose NV Energy bill ‘ticks off’ legislator

Reid-Gardner Generating Plant

Reid Gardner Station, a coal fired power plant in Moapa, is shown on Friday, Dec. 7, 2007. Sierra Pacific was fined a million dollars and required to install $85 million worth of new pollution control technology at the plant. Launch slideshow »
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Sen. Kelvin Atkinson

The state Public Utilities Commission today said NV Energy’s bill in the Nevada Legislature to close the Reid-Gardner coal-powered plant was fatally flawed and would not protect Las Vegas customers from higher rates.

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.”

The vote by the PUC drew an immediate angry response from Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, chairman of the committee reconsidering the legislation after an initial approval, referral to the Senate Finance Committee and referral back to the Energy committee.

“I’m ticked off that they would do this,” he said.

The Legislature sets the policy, not the PUC, and he said it was inappropriate that the commission voted on the measure.

He said he was trying to reach a compromise on the controversial bill and that this would interfere with his negotiations.

Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said the PUC was disrespectful of the Legislature by voting on a bill that is not finalized. His committee will likely reconsider the bill Friday.

The bill would shut down Reid-Gardner and allow NV Energy to build other natural gas and renewable energy plants while shackling the PUC’s oversight authority for rate increases associated with the construction.

Donald Lomoljo, staff counsel for the PUC, said the bill and a conceptual amendment would “leave the commission as a rubber stamp” to NV Energy's plans.

Lomoljo said there were rumors the PUC supported a new conceptual amendment submitted to Atkinson. But those rumors were false, Lomoljo said. There has not been any meeting with the commission since April 12.

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.

After the vote, Barry Gold of the Nevada Chapter of AARP praised the decision, saying the bill would raise rates without the scrutiny of the PUC. Dan Jacobsen of the state Bureau of Consumer Affairs said the bill would permit NV Energy to build new power plants without an assessment of need.

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