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Nev. Senate passes bill to increase renewable portfolio standard

The Nevada Senate passed a bill on June 5 that would increase the state's renewable portfolio standard from 25% by 2025 to 40% by 2030, backing off of an earlier version of the bill that would have doubled the RPS to 50%.

Assemblyman Chris Brooks who is the primary sponsor of the RPS measure, A.B. 206, said the portfolio can be met with energy efficiency savings as well as renewables, as in current law, but that the bill adds a new provision that provides double credits for energy dispatched from storage systems coupled with renewable resources.

The legislation would apply to NV Energy Inc. whose utility subsidiaries, Nevada Power Co. and Sierra Pacific Power Co., serve about 1.3 million customers. NV Energy is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy. The bill would apply to all electric service providers that sell 1 million MWh or more a year to retail customers, so it would currently exempt small rural electric utility service areas in the state, the largest of which is Valley Electric Association Inc.

However, the bill could extend to other energy service providers if voters vote a second time in 2018 to pass the Energy Choice Initiative that would free all retail customers to choose their own energy provider, ending NV Energy's monopoly in the state.

The measure passed by a 12-9 Senate vote immediately after Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee Chair Kelvin Atkinson urged senators to pass it and moved for them to do so. He countered arguments from opponents who called for waiting until the Energy Choice Initiative's outcome is determined before changing the RPS, saying voters have already spoken and "we can assume what will happen in 2018." Voters approved the initiative in November 2016 but are required to cast affirmative votes in two elections in order to change the Nevada Constitution.

Atkinson said the same argument was made for waiting in the last session and it was time for Nevada to take the lead on renewable energy.

"To tell us we need to keep waiting is just not good policy. It is not a good answer and it is not the way to make us number one in the country. It is time for us to push the green buttons today. I'm tired of waiting," Atkinson said.

The bill was to be sent to the Assembly for concurrence with amendments and approval was expected. The Assembly passed the bill by a 30-12 vote on May 24. Gov. Brian Sandoval had not indicated whether he would sign this measure, though he has expressed support for increased renewable energy.

NV Energy Vice President, Government and Community Relations Judy Stokey told a Senate panel on May 26 her company had no position on the bill. However, she noted that if customers are freed to choose their own electricity provider the utilities could be stuck with excess renewable resources as a result of a higher renewables standard. "We do not want to create additional stranded assets in this process," she said.

Energy and Policy Institute Executive Director Dave Pomerantz said the Nevada Resort Association opposed the bill along with two casino companies, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. The gaming industry, however, is not entirely united in opposition to the bill, he added, saying that MGM Hotel / Casino, which has invested heavily in renewables, is very supportive.