Saving the worst for last: end-of-session bill would undermine Nevada's transition to clean energy

Today, on the last day of the legislative session, the Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, John Hambrick, has introduced a bill, AB 498, that would undo the state's 2013 agreement to replace dirty coal-fired power plants with clean energy.

That 2013 law - which Speaker Hambrick voted for - requires Nevada's large, investor-owned utility, NV Energy, to retire 800 megawatts of coal capacity, and replace it with cleaner alternatives, including 350 megawatts of renewable energy like wind and solar.

The new bill got its first hearing today in the Commerce and Labor Committee, and could be voted on before midnight.

Under current law, NV Energy - which serves 1.3 million Nevada customers and 40 million tourists - must contract for 300 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by the end of 2016, in three 100-megawatt chunks, and own and operate 50 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by the end of 2021. NV Energy's regulator, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, reviews all of these decisions to make sure they are a good deal for utility customers.

The Speaker's bill would add new processes to the framework: in order to get approval for the final 100 megawatt tranche of renewable energy contracts and the final 35 megawatts of renewable energy that NV Energy is set to own and operate, the utility must demonstrate to the Public Utilities Commission that the capacity is "needed."

This sounds innocuous enough, but it means that where in the past, Nevadans were assured of a transition to clean energy, in the future citizens would have to rely on the outcome of uncertain regulatory processes to deliver cleaner energy. In Nevada's current regulatory environment, where large customers are attempting to exit the NV Energy system, buying energy on the market instead of from NV Energy, customers cannot be certain of the outcome of these additional processes.

Moreover, decelerating Nevada's clean energy transition would make it more difficult for the state to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration's Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from power plants. Finally, the Speaker's bill creates uncertainty for renewable energy companies, who invested in Nevada based on the expectation that the state would continue to support emissions-free energy.

In Nevada, deadline pressure has produced an un-vetted, disruptive bill. Lawmakers should be skeptical.