‘Green’ bills receive push from leaders

CARSON CITY — As lawmakers rush through the final weeks of their 2009 session, they’re working out details on bills to help Nevada overcome obstacles to realizing its full potential as a renewable energy leader.

Nevada’s ample wind, sun and hot springs have put the state in a favorable position to develop renewable energy resources, earning it the nickname the “Saudi Arabia of alternative energy.”

But the state lacks transmission lines to connect northern and southern power grids, a critical piece of infrastructure needed to export energy to California and other states.

And since 86 percent of the state is federal land, the process for leasing and developing land is more cumbersome.

“You can have all the abatements in the world, but unless you have a system where you can move the projects forward smoothly, and without transmission lines, there’s no way,” said Alfredo Alonso, lobbyist for Ausra Solar.

One bill, Assembly Bill 522, heard in Assembly Ways and Means on Friday, would help streamline the process by creating a state energy commissioner to help developers work with the federal Bureau of Land Management to get leases and permits, teach the public about energy conservation and collect information about the companies to ensure they meet requirements for tax abatements.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, set out early in the session to examine the state’s tax abatements used to attract businesses.

“We have to stay competitive, stay on the cutting edge,” Kirkpatrick said Friday. “But at the same time we have to make sure that Nevada workers are part of the process.”

Current tax abatement policies expire in June. AB 522 would strengthen the requirements to qualify for the abatements. For large counties, a company would have to create 75 jobs in the second quarter of its construction phase, and those jobs would have to pay 110 percent of the statewide wage average of about $19 an hour..

Kirkpatrick also said the new commissioner would collect data to track companies’ compliance with those requirements.

“There’s an accountability measure now, so we can go back and track them, and they’re not necessarily guaranteed the abatement unless they follow the rules,” Kirkpatrick said.

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