State energy commissioner’s position given the green light

CARSON CITY — Nevada is getting an energy commissioner to attract alternative energy projects to the state and reduce public and private energy consumption.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Thursday approved a plan to pay this commissioner $117,030 a year.

The position and the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Authority, which the commissioner will direct, both will be paid for by $250,000 in reserve funds from the Public Utilities Commission.

The commissioner’s job will be to attract wind, solar and geothermal projects to Nevada and recommend measures to reduce energy consumption.

In addition, he or she will create a database of technological information and financing opportunities that renewable energy companies can utilize.

The commissioner also can approve tax abatements for companies that decide to construct facilities in the state, and identify areas where renewable companies might want to locate in Nevada.

Several legislators questioned whether the salary was sufficient in light of the national effort on developing renewable projects. The commissioner must have a background in professional engineering and be an expert in renewable energy work and on financing energy projects.

Gov. Jim Gibbons will name the energy commissioner, but his appointment will be subject to the approval of the Legislative Commission, a group of 12 legislators who handle nonfinancial legislative business when the full Legislature is not in session.

The authority was created through the passage of Senate Bill 358 and Assembly Bill 522 during the legislative session that ended June 2.

Under the legislation, a New Energy Industry Task Force also will be created to advise the commissioner on measures that could better attract renewable energy companies.

But the commissioner will share responsibility for new energy development with state Energy Director Hatice Gecol. She was given control of the Fund for Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservations Loans.

Through this fund, the energy director could make 3 percent interest rate loans, with legislative approval, to companies that build renewable projects.

On Thursday legislators complained to Gecol about the delay in the receipt of $34.7 million in federal stimulus fund for energy programs.

Gecol said she has received about 10 percent of the funds, but that money can be used only to hire staff. She heads an office of four people.

She said she hopes to receive an additional 40 percent of the funds in a couple of weeks.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, warned Gecol that legislators need a work program from her office and a timeline on when the money will be available.

"We have all known about this since March," Buckley said. "Here it is June. Part of the stimulus plan was to get jobs starting right away. These are things our economy needs."

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said he will work with Gecol and try to secure the stimulus money quickly.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel or 775-687-3901.

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