Bill would let NV Energy delay new renewable-energy projects

CARSON CITY — A bill that would let NV Energy delay building new renewable energy projects required as part of a plan to replace the loss of coal-fired power produced at the Reid Gardner plant at Moapa was introduced Monday, the last day of the legislative session.

Assembly Bill 498 was introduced by Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, and scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee at the call of the chairman of the panel.

Hambrick said he requested the bill because the Nevada Public Utilities Commission should determine if there is a need for the new power as a result of the decision by the data storage center company Switch and three large gaming companies to leave Nevada Power Co., part of NV Energy, and seek their own power on the wholesale market.

The Sierra Club is criticizing the bill, saying it would undo the agreement made in 2013 requiring NV Energy to build at least 350 megawatts of clean energy to replace the Reid Gardner coal plant at Moapa.

“Now, in a last-ditch, back-door maneuver the Legislature is trying to undo the deal, with nearly 200 megawatts of renewables at risk,” said Barbara Boyle, senior representative with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This will increase pollution, reliance on dirty fuels and kill thousands of renewable energy construction jobs. It’s a bad deal for Nevadans.”

But the bill would not change the decision of NV Energy to end its reliance on coal-fired power. That process began last year when three of four coal-fired units at the Reid Gardner plant near Moapa were permanently shut down. The fourth and final coal-fired unit is scheduled to close in 2017.

Nevada Power also plans to end its ownership interest in the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz., by 2019. In all, 812 megawatts of coal-fired generation will be retired or eliminated under the plan.

The company has purchased natural gas-fired plants to replace much of the lost capacity.

What the bill would do is potentially lessen the cost to the companies seeking to leave Nevada Power. Leaving the utility will require the companies to pay an exit fee to cover the costs of closing the coal plants and building new renewable energy plants.

If the plants are not built, the charge to the companies to leave could be less.

A decision on Switch’s application to leave Nevada Power is coming up next week at the PUC. Regulatory staff want the company to pay a $27 million exit fee. The company says it should only have to pay $18.5 million.

Wynn Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International and Las Vegas Sands Corp. have also applied with the PUC to leave Nevada Power.

The bill would have had to pass by midnight Monday to become law.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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