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September 27, 2021

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Sandoval shakes up PUC by appointing 2 new commissioners

In a move likely intended to overhaul the makeup of the Public Utilities Commission, Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday appointed two new commissioners to the three-member panel, bringing outside perspectives to a regulatory body that is often criticized for being insular.

Effective Oct. 3, Sandoval’s general counsel Joe Reynolds and former Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Leo Drozdoff will become PUC commissioners, replacing David Noble and Alaina Burtenshaw, who have worked at the PUC for decades.

Reynolds will become PUC chairman, taking over for Paul Thomsen, another Sandoval appointee.

In a statement on Tuesday, the governor called Reynolds a “smart and thoughtful litigator who successfully managed some of the most difficult legal issues our state has faced in the past year and a half.” Drozdoff’s appointment to the utilities commission will be temporary.

Policymakers, energy experts and the governor criticized the commission after it unanimously approved rate hikes for rooftop solar customers, increasing bills for thousands of existing customers who installed solar panels on their roofs months, sometimes years, before the ruling.

In July, the governor said he would not reappoint Noble, who presided over the new rates. After the rates were approved, Noble made several public speaking appearances defending the rate structure. He said the new rates were necessary to ensure that solar customers were paying their fair share for the grid and not shifting service costs to nonsolar ratepayers.

The new rate structure for rooftop solar customers remains controversial. Although the PUC reversed course last week when it voted to grandfather thousands of existing customers under their prior rates, the more taxing rate structure continues to apply for future solar customers.

National installers Sunrun and SolarCity halted sales in Nevada this year, arguing that the new rate structure made a long-term investment in rooftop solar disadvantageous. The commission is expected to reconsider the costs and benefits of rooftop solar during a proceeding this fall, which means a change in the PUC's makeup could affect how solar is valued going forward.

A Sandoval spokeswoman in July thanked Noble for his service but said that the governor believed that the utilities commission needed “a fresh perspective and new direction.”

The governor’s choices are unique in that neither appointee comes directly from the PUC. Both Burtenshaw and Noble had worked at the PUC prior to being appointed commissioners.

In October, Burtenshaw, who started working at the PUC in 1992 and has served as a commissioner since 2010, will become the chairwoman of the Nevada Transportation Authority.

“I appreciate Alaina’s willingness to continue her service to our state in this new assignment,” Sandoval said. “The (NTA) will continue to maintain the safety and integrity of the companies and operators that move the Nevadans and the millions who travel to our state annually.”

Daniel Stewart, who served as chief policy adviser to the Assembly Republican Caucus during the 2015 legislative session, will start as Sandoval’s general counsel on Oct. 3.

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