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July 23, 2014

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Renewable energy bill cruises through committee

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The Nevada Senate’s key energy legislation won unanimous approval Tuesday by the Committee on Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation.

The compromise version of Senate Bill 358 is the product of months of negotiations among legislators, the state’s main electric utility and representatives of the renewable energy industry. A crucial element has been whether to provide an extra boost for small-scale renewable energy systems, such as solar panels on rooftops.

Proponents, including solar manufacturers and labor unions, argued that those systems are less environmentally harmful and create good jobs.

The utility, NV Energy, and some consumer advocates argue that so-called distributed solar is much less cost-effective than building large solar plants and other big renewable energy systems.

The bill includes other methods for boosting rooftop solar systems, such as a provision to allow municipalities to offer loans to encourage rooftop panels, and gives a newly created Renewable Energy Commission authority over NV Energy’s solar incentive program.

The legislation expands the amount of energy that is required to come from renewable sources to 25 percent by 2025. The current required amount is 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2015.

Under the legislation, 6 percent of renewable energy must come from solar after 2015 — up from the current requirement of 5 percent.

The bill calls for the utility to earn back from ratepayers any revenue it loses through conservation efforts. This is a controversial measure, a partial version of what is known as “decoupling.”

Eric Witkowski, the state’s consumer advocate, said at Tuesday’s hearing he is concerned that energy use is being curtailed by the recession. He said it will be difficult to separate those reductions from declines in energy consumption caused by conservation measures.

Public Utilities Commissioner Jo-Anne Kelly said the commission would be able to figure that out based on sophisticated measurement tools.

Prefacing her vote in favor of the bill, Sen. Maggie Carlton said she is concerned that her constituents will end up paying higher rates without receiving the benefits of the energy savings measures.

“I’m hoping everyone watches this and makes sure that what we’re allowing to happen actually happens appropriately and that the people I represent don’t end up bearing the burden of this whole proposal because they are not the sophisticated buyers in this system,” Carlton said.

The committee also voted to approve the governor’s energy bill, Senate Bill 395. But the committee abolished many of its key components, including tax abatements for solar plants.

The committee also removed tax abatements from a version of SB358 that Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford presented to the committee late last month.

Members said they were counting on Assembly Bill 522 to address abatements to encourage large solar plants in Nevada. The bill is to come before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee this morning.

•••

Military veterans were recognized in several pieces of legislation that either won approval Tuesday or moved closer to it.

Despite Republican opposition, the Assembly passed a bill giving businesses owned by disabled veterans a 7 percent preference in bidding on state contracts worth less than $100,000. Assembly Bill 233 also gives a 5 percent preference to local businesses in bidding on state contracts. The bill was approved 31-10. All opponents were Republicans. The legislation now moves to the Senate.

The Senate approved, 21-0, a bill to give $100 to members of the National Guard upon their return from a combat zone if they attend a class that gives them advice on reentering the community. Senate Bill 408 now goes to the Assembly.

Also approved by the Senate was Assembly Bill 231, which exempts military veterans from a fee to lobby at the Legislature if they are not compensated. It goes to the governor for his signature.

By a 41-0 vote, the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 3, which requires landscaping veterans cemeteries with natural grass. The bill goes to the Senate.

The Assembly approved Senate Bill 139, which would create special license plates for family members of military personnel killed in the line of duty. Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, said a gold star would be placed on the license plate. The measure goes to Gov. Jim Gibbons for his signature.

Sun reporter Alexandra Berzon reported from Las Vegas.

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