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April 23, 2014

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Senate passes bill to replace NV Energy coal plants

Reid-Gardner Generating Plant

Reid Gardner Station, a coal fired power plant in Moapa, is shown on Friday, Dec. 7, 2007. Sierra Pacific was fined a million dollars and required to install $85 million worth of new pollution control technology at the plant. Launch slideshow »

A measure that would require Nevada's largest electricity provider to accelerate the closure of its coal-fired power plants and launch massive new construction projects to replace the coal plants with renewable energy and natural gas passed the Nevada Senate unanimously today.

Senate Bill 123, one of the most lobbied measures this session, lays out a 10-year plan for NV Energy to acquire and generate more clean energy-- a policy goal that won wide support from a broad coalition of politicians and environmental groups. But the language governing how the utility would replace its coal-fired plants and how much regulatory power the Public Utilities Commission would have over the plan opened rifts among some of the most powerful interests at the Legislature.

The measure also generated an outcry from the Public Utilities Commission, which feared it would shackle their ability to regulate the utility, and the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which argued the bill could lead to higher rate increases than projected by the utility.

But in presenting the bill to his colleagues on the floor, Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said lawmakers were able to broker a compromise among the various interests lobbying the bill, including scaling back the scope of what NV Energy would be mandated to build and giving the PUC more authority to modify the plan over the course of the next decade.

"This bill puts Nevada at the forefront of energy policy in this country," Atkinson said, arguing it does not "sacrifice regulatory oversight."

Opponents still exist. A group fronted by former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa oppose the measure, arguing it requires ratepayers to bear too much risk, while protecting shareholders.

The bill now heads to the Assembly, which has 12 days to conduct hearings and then vote on the measure.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he supports the bill, as does U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.

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