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PUC ‘troubled’ by NV Energy request for $1.5B solar project

Updated March 1, 2024 - 4:17 pm

NV Energy will spend about $1.75 billion to build a solar field and convert its last coal plant to natural gas, among other projects.

The Public Utilities Commission on Friday approved several spending requests sought by NV Energy, the most notable being its plan to shutter the last remaining coal power at the North Valmy Generating Station and convert it to a natural gas facility as well as approving $1.5 billion to develop the Sierra Solar project in Churchill County in northern Nevada.

NV Energy will spend $50 million to convert Valmy’s operations to natural gas and work should be completed by June 2026, according to the public utility. NV Energy had requested $83 million but the PUC didn’t approve $33 million of the initial request saying it wasn’t vital for the conversion and would be used as a placeholder for future upgrades.

Even as the PUC approved $1.5 billion for Sierra Solar, the commission put guardrails on the project, which NV Energy has said it would develop itself instead of relying on a third party. The PUC capped the Sierra Solar construction costs at $1.5 billion and said NV Energy would need to credit customers with damages if the solar field doesn’t meet its timeline of being complete by April 2027.

The Sierra Solar project would add 400 megawatts of energy to the NV Energy system and 400 megawatts worth of energy storage.

In a written order, the PUC expressed concerns over the Sierra Solar budget saying it’s “the most expensive project ever proposed to be built or owned by NV Energy and even with the solar project’s proposed price tag, its actual price tag is unknown at this time.”

The costs of large scale energy projects can increase quickly as NV Energy disclosed in its Sierra Solar project application that its massive Greenlink Nevada transmission project is at least $443 million over budget and will likely cost more than $2.9 billion.

Also included in the order were NV Energy’s concerns that if too many cost controls were placed on the Sierra Solar project by the PUC, the utility may not develop it. The PUC responded saying this was a “troubling” position for NV Energy to have since the utility used a mechanism for project proposals that requires a faster review from the PUC in order to get the Sierra Solar project approved.

“The Commission … is troubled by the suggestion that this need (for more renewable energy) may be ignored unless NV Energy gets the terms that it desires for the Sierra Solar project,” the PUC order said.

In a Friday afternoon statement, NV Energy said it was “diligently reviewing” the controls the PUC put on the Sierra Solar project but didn’t commit to actually developing the project. The statement did say NV Energy would move forward with the retirement of coal at Valmy and the other projects the PUC approved in its order.

The Sierra Solar project is supposed to supply the Sphere with renewable energy as NV Energy and Sphere Entertainment Co. have requested the PUC approve an energy supply agreement. The application for this agreement is still under consideration.

Additionally, $12 million was approved to extend the life cycle of components at the Frank Tracy Generating Station, which uses natural gas, to the end of 2049. NV Energy asked for $54 million for this project but the PUC said the utility didn’t properly justify the need for the full amount.

The PUC also approved about $77.4 million for NV Energy to improve its transmission system around the Apex Industrial Park and $106 million for transformer infrastructure.

These NV Energy project proposals won’t be the only ones the PUC will consider this year as NV Energy is expected to file an application in the summer for other energy projects the utility wants to pursue in the future.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on X.

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