Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 12:05 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid lambasted the Nevada Public Utilities Commission this week, accusing the energy regulators of trying to scuttle a bill before the state Legislature that would require NV Energy to stop using coal to produce electricity.
Reid and his staff have been deeply involved in Senate Bill 123, a 10-year plan that would speed up NV Energy’s closure of coal plants in Southern Nevada and set in motion a massive construction plan to build new natural gas and renewable energy plants.
The PUC has been critical of the legislation, arguing it puts too much risk on ratepayers to shoulder the cost of constructing the plants and limits the commission’s ability to oversee the plan.
That opposition riles Reid, who has pushed for years to eliminate coal-fired power plants from the state.
“They raised hell here because it was taking away their power,” Reid said of the PUC in an interview taped for the public affairs program To the Point. “Well, I think we need to take more power away from this little bureaucracy that I think has done a lot to hinder the development of renewable energy rather than help it.
“I think they are trying to maintain their turf. I think their turf should be more limited than it is.”
The PUC is charged with regulating NV Energy, a privately owned utility that serves Southern and Northern Nevada. By law, the commission must balance the interests of ratepayers and the company’s shareholders “by providing public utilities with the opportunity to earn a fair return on their investments while providing customers with just and reasonable rates.”
But critics, including Reid, say that often leads the commission to seek the lowest cost method of delivering electricity.
“They need to start looking at more than just basic cost because some of the cost is what is good for the health of the people,” Reid said. “They don’t do that. That’s not part of their portfolio.”
In response to opposition from many quarters, NV Energy has repeatedly amended SB 123, addressing some of the concerns of large customers and the PUC.
“They weakened the bill a little bit, that’s ok,” Reid said. “I hope they get it to (Gov. Brian) Sandoval so he can sign it.”
Although Reid’s staff has been involved in helping craft Senate Bill 123, Reid said he hasn’t personally lobbied the bill.
“I think this should rise or fall on its merits,” he said. “My staff been involved and keep in daily touch with the people trying to work this through. I hope they can get it done. I feel fairly comfortable we’ll get something done.”
The measure passed the Senate unanimously and Sandoval has said he supports it. The bill hasn’t yet made it out of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee.