Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 | 5:44 p.m.
CARSON CITY – NV Energy’s exploratory plan to ship sun, wind and geothermal power to California and other states is raising fears that Nevada customers will be stuck with part of the bill.
The state Public Utilities Commission held a four-hour workshop Wednesday to give NV Energy time to outline its concept to collect renewable energy from Northern Nevada and send it 527 miles to Southern Nevada, then into adjoining states, where the power would be purchased.
Mario Villar, vice president of transmission for NV Energy, said those who are developing the power would be paying the cost. He said the utility is trying to insulate Nevada customers from picking up part of the cost.
He told the workshop that renewable energy developers are due to reply by Sept. 16 on whether they might be interested in going forward with the project and finding potential out-of-state markets.
Commissioner Rebecca Wagner told Villar, “I’m concerned about the risk on ratepayers and on shareholders.” She said there was a “tremendous amount of risk” if the project wasn't completed.
Villar said the upfront costs of studies on the feasibility of the project, the cost of getting permits and acquisition of resources would be borne by developers.
There is no estimate of the project’s cost. A number of things first must be determined, such as how many companies will join and the needed capacity of the transmission lines.
Villar said California is the biggest potential market. Utilities in that state must have 33 percent of their power in renewal energy by 2020. Villar said that doesn’t only include utilities, but also takes in such units as local governments.
But Michael Saunders of Las Vegas produced a letter from Michael Picker, the senior energy adviser in the office of the California governor, indicating the required amount of energy would be produced in that state by the deadline and it might even consider exporting part of the excess to other states.
He said this should serve as a “cautious note” to permitting NV Energy to go forward with the project.
Representatives of the Tule Springs Coalition expressed opposition to the alignment of the transmission line in Clark County, saying it would dim the chances of the area becoming a national monument. There are ice-age fossils and rare plants that would be disturbed if the utility held to that alignment, officials said.
Thousands of people have signed a petition opposing the alignment in the upper Las Vegas Wash, they said. A representative of Nellis Air Force Base said the proposed alignment would invade restricted military property.
The only support came from Lincoln County, which wants NV Energy to build two substations in that county to foster economic development.
Villar noted on several occasions that the transmission lines take a long time to build. He said there should be some indication by the end of the year on whether the renewal energy developers were willing to front a study on the cost of the project.
The utility has spent $150,000 so far on the preliminary work.