Reid lauds plans for power line

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has heralded Nevada electric utility companies’ decision to build a power line that would directly connect Northern and Southern Nevada for the first time. But LS Power, an independent power company, is rapidly preparing to build a line on the same route, potentially making the utility project unnecessary.

NV Energy, as Nevada Power Co. and Sierra Pacific Power Co. now call themselves, Monday made their first public commitment to build a transmission line without linking it to the utilities’ proposed coal-fired power plant in Ely.

The transmission line could “help carry renewable electricity between Northern Nevada and the southern part of the state,” Reid said Monday in a statement.

Reid advocates renewable power and opposes building any new coal-fired power plants in Nevada.

The transmission line would enable renewable energy projects in remote locations to ship electricity to Las Vegas. In particular, the line would provide Las Vegas residents a way to draw electricity from remote wind farms and geothermal plants in Northern Nevada. Most of the hot underground water and steam needed for geothermal power is in Northern Nevada.

The transmission line would improve electric power reliability as well.

The key question is whether NV Energy, a regulated utility, is authorized to build the line and make a profit on it, or an independent company builds the line and sells transmission service to NV Energy.

LS Power of East Brunswick, N.J., appears to have pre-empted NV Energy’s plans to start developing a stand-alone transmission line.

LS Power is far ahead of NV Energy in developing the Southwest Intertie Project that would link electric utilities in Southern and Northern Nevada.

The New Jersey company in August filed an application with the Public Utilities Commission, seeking approval to build the 500-kilovolt line between a rural area west of Ely to the Las Vegas area — along approximately the same corridor that NV Energy wants to follow.

LS Power hopes to begin construction of the $350 million to $470 million transmission line next summer and complete the project in 2010.

NV Energy would be just beginning a new phase of regulatory review for its planned north-south transmission line.

The utilities commission will consider whether NV Energy should simply buy transmission services on the LS Power line, rather than build a separate power line along a similar route, said Eric Witkoski, chief of the attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

NV Energy originally sought BLM approval for the transmission line as part of its proposed $5 billion Ely Energy Center, and the company has delayed development of the Ely center.

No one seems to know what kinds of changes NV Energy would need to make to its BLM application or whether it would need to make a new application with BLM to build a stand-alone transmission line without the Ely power plant.

LS Power implies it can get enough commitments from out-of-state utilities and independent renewable power developers to finance and build the transmission line — even if NV Energy decides not to buy capacity on the LS Power line.

“There’s enough interest for us to move forward,” said Mark Milburn, LS Power’s director of project development

He declined to directly say whether the company could build the transmission line without a commitment from NV Energy.

NV Energy spokesman Adam Grant said the utilities continue to pursue their separate power-line project.

“We are doing our analysis, and we are going ahead with our plans,” Grant said.

Michael Yackira, chief executive of NV Energy holding company Sierra Pacific Resources, said Monday that the company also is reviewing the feasibility of building a transmission line between the Reno area and Las Vegas along the western side of the state.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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