As Legislature pursues renewables, NV Energy, others say consumers will pick up the tab
It’s easy to philosophically support green energy. But what are you willing to pay for it?
That’s the question lawmakers are balancing this session, as they try to promote renewable energy, although the state’s electric utility NV Energy and some consumer advocates warn such promotions will lead to higher electricity bills for ratepayers.
Green energy advocates, who hope Nevada can one day be a center of a thriving renewable energy industry, said NV Energy is trying to quash renewable energy legislation to protect its profits at the expense of a potential industry for Nevada.
The debate points to Nevada’s conundrum as it tries to develop industries without burdening consumers during a recession.
NV Energy has won a powerful ally on these bills – the state’s Consumer Protection Bureau, which is under the Nevada attorney general and which has expressed concern about possible cost increases during the recession as a result of legislation designed to promote renewable energy.
“When lawmakers increase subsidies, or expand efficiency programs, ratepayers pay for those,” said Dan Jacobsen of the Consumer Protection Bureau.
In plain language: The harder the Legislature pushes for solar, wind and geothermal energy, the higher Nevadans’ power bills could be.
Consumer advocates are asking lawmakers to be judicious as they choose between their desire for renewable projects and its effect on ratepayers.
Senate Bill 184 would require NV Energy to sign long-term contracts with large solar producers, even though the utility could buy cheaper power from other, nonrenewable sources.
Ratepayers, through their utility bills, pay for programs such as SolarGenerations, a fund that gives rebates to solar producers. Expanding similar programs would lead to still higher electricity rates.
NV Energy has had a mixed history with renewable energy, and is seen as downright hostile toward it by some renewable energy advocates. In particular, it has fought against small-scale projects, such as solar panels on rooftops.
“They say they love renewable energy and then at every turn they try to thwart it,” said Rose McKinney-James, a lobbyist whose clients include solar companies. NV Energy’s commercials promote renewable energy, which contradict its position at the Legislature, she said.
“If you take a look at a series of amendments they have brought forth, it leaves the impression they want incentives to go away,” she said. “If the incentives go away, the nascent industry, which has shown potential for growth, will go away.”
Jim Woolsey, former CIA director and a renewable energy advocate, was at the Legislature on Friday to support SB184.
He said the pilot program in Nevada would increase a $100 bill to $100.50. Renewable energy has other benefits such as spurring investment and building a power supply that’s more secure against natural disasters and terrorist attacks, he said.
Opponents of renewable energy often use cost estimates based on older solar technology to scare the public about higher costs; innovations in the solar industry have driven down costs, he said.
“Most everything the anti-clean folks point to is several years old,” he said. Sacramento has contracts for power from renewable energy sources at rates that are competitive with nonrenewable sources.
NV Energy lobbyist Greg Ferraro said in a statement that the company had a “strong record on renewable energy.”
“But we have growing concerns about additional policy directives that would place a heavier financial burden on Nevada ratepayers,” Ferraro said.
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