Reid pressures NV Energy to back Laughlin solar project


WASHINGTON - Sen. Harry Reid on Monday applied pressure to Nevada's chief electricity provider to get behind a $5 billion solar project that a Chinese company wants to build near Laughlin.

Reid said the ambitious complex envisioned by ENN Mojave Energy "would start tomorrow if NV Energy would purchase the power," but the company "has not been willing to work on this and that's such a shame."

The Senate majority leader's remarks were the linkage between the Nevada utility and the clean energy project. Previously, the project was aimed at serving utilities in California, where state officials now say they have no interest in importing power from other states.

Reid, D-Nev., indicated there have been overtures to gauge NV Energy's interest in buying power from the Laughlin venture. He characterized NV Energy's response as "weak excuses," including what he described as the utility's doubts that the Nevada Public Utilities Commission would approve the purchase.

"NV Energy is a regulated monopoly," Reid said. "They control 95 percent of all the electricity that is produced in Nevada and they should go along with this."

Responding to Reid, an NV Energy spokeswoman said the utility is not in the market for more renewable energy at this time, having exceeded the state's requirement that 15 percent of its portfolio originate from clean sources.

The company does not plan to issue new requests for power until 2014 and 2015, and will do so through competitive bidding, said Jennifer Schuricht.

"NV Energy would certainly welcome a bid from ENN when we issue the next RFP (request for proposals), and their success, like all other projects, would be dependent on the benefits, especially price, that they can demonstrate for the customers of NV Energy," Schuricht said in a statement.

That might be too late for ENN. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the company's land deal with Clark County would be voided if it can't find a power customer by next June.

ENN wants to buy 5,400 acres for a photovoltaic power plant and solar-panel factory that advocates say could employ 2,000 people and trigger an economic boon in the southern tip of the state.

This is not the first time Reid has sought to influence NV Energy on clean energy policy. In a televised interview in April, Reid said he did not believe the utility "has done enough to allow renewable energy to thrive" in Nevada.

As Reid embraced renewable energy in his vision for Nevada and sought to recruit investors, he fought NV Energy plans for a $5 billion coal-fired plant in Ely. The project was shelved in 2009.

Reid also has a personal stake in the matter. He has played a key role in introducing Nevada to ENN, a Chinese conglomerate looking to invest $8 billion in U.S. clean energy over the coming decade. Reid has toured ENN facilities in China, and its chairman, Wang Yusuo, spoke last summer at Reid's annual clean energy summit in Las Vegas.

Reid's remarks Monday came during an online discussion to promote this year's National Clean Energy Summit, scheduled for Aug. 7 at Bellagio.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Review-Journal writer Jennifer Robison contributed to this report.

 

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