Nevada lawmakers approve renewable energy authority

CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers voted Thursday to endorse a new state renewable energy agency after asking numerous questions about the agency’s staffing and initial $250,000-a-year funding.

The lawmakers’ Interim Finance Committee supported the new Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Authority, along with a $117,030-a-year salary for a commissioner and a $56,265-a-year salary for an executive assistant. The initial source of funds for the authority will come from a small tax collected by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The commissioner’s job is to suggest ways to cut energy use and to attract wind, solar and geothermal projects to Nevada by offering tax breaks, technological data and financing options to renewable energy companies.

The commissioner will share responsibility for alternative energy development with state Energy Director Hatice Gecol.

The authority amounts to "a new bureaucracy" that’s being set up without any assurances that funding for its operating costs would be available beyond the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1, said Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City.

A bill approved this year by the Legislature also allows the authority to contract for legal counsel, Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said, adding, "Where’s that money coming from?"

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said there’s no request at this point for legal counsel funding. He added that in the short term the funding for the authority will come from the state PUC. More details would be provided once the new commissioner is on the job, he said.

Legislators also questioned Gecol about the more than $34 million in stimulus funds available for Nevada energy programs. Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she was concerned about the lack of detail on how the federal funds, which Gecol controls, will be spent on energy-related projects.

"We’ve known about this since March and here we are in June and it’s not tight enough," Buckley said of the plan for spending the funds.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Reno, said she’s concerned about timely responses to the questions since the lawmakers’ Interim Finance Committee, which provides funding to agencies between Nevada’s regular legislative sessions, isn’t scheduled to meet again until September.

Clinger said he would work with the lawmakers’ staffers and if necessary seek a special IFC meeting to deliver information before September. Gecol said she has about 10 percent of the federal money and hopes for more in a couple of weeks.

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