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October 19, 2014

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NV Energy takes fight over Henderson transmission line to court

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NV Energy filed a petition in Clark County District Court today, asking a judge to overturn the Henderson City Council’s denial of the company’s request to build a major transmission line in east Henderson.

NV Energy had applied for the necessary permits to upgrade an existing three-wire line that has been in existence since the 1930s into a 20-wire transmission line, saying the improved capacity would be necessary to meet the valley’s future energy needs.

Residents from Henderson’s Section 4 and Tuscany neighborhoods, which lie within the proposed line’s path, were quick to rally against the proposal, crowding public hearings to protest on the grounds of the negative impact they said the line would have on property values, the visual and safety impacts of the line’s proposed 135-foot towers and other concerns.

After several public hearings on the matter, the Henderson Planning Commission unanimously denied NV Energy’s request in June, and after NV Energy appealed that decision to the City Council in August, the Council unanimously upheld the denial.

Now the matter is headed for the courts — a course of action that NV Energy Government Affairs Executive Dave Rigdon said the company carefully considered.

“We sat down and we looked at everything,” Rigdon said. “… Taking a step like this is not something we take lightly. The really overriding concern for our people, which trumped everything else we looked at in this process, was the rate impact to our customers. The number one priority for us is to make sure that we provide efficient, reliable service at the lowest possible cost.”

As proposed by NV Energy, the line upgrade would cost about $27 million. At the Planning Commission’s request, NV Energy drew up five potential alternative routes for the line but declined to pursue any of them because of the increased costs associated with additional right-of-way acquisition and materials. Of the five, the one that won over city officials and residents was the most expensive — adding an estimated $19.5 million to the project.

During public hearings, Rigdon said that amount would have to be passed on to rate payers — though whether that cost would be absorbed statewide, limited to the Las Vegas Valley or just Henderson would be a matter for the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates NV Energy, to decide.

Rigdon pointed out that Clark County and the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition had already approved the project.

“For a single entity to come in and deny a portion of it really put us in a bind,” he said.

Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin, who represents the Tuscany area, said she was caught off-guard when NV Energy officials called to advise her that they were filing the petition.

“I’m surprised that NV Energy has taken this aggressive move when the Council asked them to reconsider their needs assessment,” she said.

With the valley’s growth rates tapering off as a result of the economic climate, Boutin said she’s still not convinced that the transmission line will be needed. She credited NV Energy for its charitable undertakings and efforts to improve the community, but said this project doesn’t seem to be justified.

“It was a very difficult decision to make, but I believe we made the right decision and I stand by it,” she said.

In public hearings, Rigdon acknowledged that projected growth rates have changed, but said the company still estimates that the line will be needed by 2015.

The downtown Henderson area has already seen some limitations because of an inadequate power supply — two major projects planned for the Water Street District have already been delayed, in part because of economic concerns and in part because the existing power grid is inadequate to meet their needs.

Boutin said that even if a re-evaluated needs assessment upheld the need for a new line, NV Energy would still have to “come back with a better plan.”

Section 4 resident Bill Wilson, who was one of the grassroots organizers of resident efforts to block the proposal, said he was at a loss for words when he heard about NV Energy’s court petition.

“I was afraid this would happen,” he said. “I’ve been walking around with my fingers crossed for about four weeks now.”

Asked if he would become involved in the legal process, he said: “I think we’d be foolish not to.”

What form that participation takes, whether it the residents hiring their own attorney to represent their interests or doing all they can to support the Henderson City Attorney’s Office, remains to be seen, Wilson said.

If the court grants NV Energy’s request and the line moves forward, Rigdon said the company remains committed to the mitigation measures it agreed to with city officials, including working with the city to lower the height of the towers by 15 feet and working with residents to adjust tower placement to minimize the towers’ impact on individual property owners.

“Every mitigation that was recommended by city staff or brought up in a neighborhood meeting — aside from moving the whole thing — we agreed to those measures,” Rigdon said.

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