Lawmakers debate bills that would change regulation of public utilities |

Lawmakers debate bills that would change regulation of public utilities

Associated Press Writer
Cathleen Allison/Associated Press Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, testifies Wednesday at the Legislature on a proposal that would qualify energy plants that burn tires to create electricity as a renewable-energy source.

Lawmakers debated three bills Wednesday that change Nevada utility regulation, including one to classify power plants that burn tires as renewable energy systems for purposes of meeting state standards for “green” energy production.

The other bills heard by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee state that co-ops, non-profits and renewable energy systems are exempt from the state environmental review laws on utilities.

The co-op and nonprofit measure, SB111, was approved despite opposition from state regulators and the Nevada Conservation League. The environmentalist group also opposed the other two bills, which will come up for committee votes at later hearings.

SB111, sponsored by Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, would exempt non-profits and co-ops that want to build power plants from terms of the state’s Utility Environmental Protection Act, or UEPA.

David Noble, assistant staff counsel for the state Public Utilities Commission, argued against the change, saying, “We just do not believe this exemption is appropriate. The Legislature’s intent for having UEPA was … to have a final forum before construction began.”

Kyle Davis, policy director for the Nevada Conservation League, added that the law could create a loophole.

“We open a loophole in which somebody could conceivably build a utility plant on private land and not have to go through that permitting process,” Davis said after the meeting.

SB114, sponsored by Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, would repeal a section of the utility law that says using tires to create electricity is not a renewable energy system except in limited circumstances. The law would be changed to say “any system that involves creating electricity from tires” is a renewable energy system.

Renewable energy companies generate revenue by selling credits to other companies that need to meet that state’s green energy standards.

Coffin said he proposed the bill after talking to an old school friend, an attorney in Las Vegas whom he did not name, whose family would like to “give it a go in Nevada.” He said the way the law is written now doesn’t allow for other technologies to develop. And he decried the fact that millions of tires are now accumulating in landfills.

Critics included Sen. Joseph Heck, R-Henderson, who said the bill would not prevent environmentally unsound methods of creating energy from tires.

“It’s so overly broad that it could potentially allow an open burning process, which I don’t think anyone wants to encourage,” Heck said.

The third bill, SB95 which was sought by the PUC, would exempt all renewable energy plants, regardless of their generating power, from UEPA permitting process. Current law exempts only small renewable energy systems that generate below 150 kilowatts.

Davis said even renewable energy companies should go through environmental review, using as a hypothetical example a wind power plant proposed in an area with a large bird population.

SB95 also removes several kinds of companies from the classification of a utility. Radio and broadcasting companies, companies that own cars used as part of railroad trains and companies that operate a ditch, flume, tunnel or tunnel and drainage system would be removed from regulation as public utilities.