(Andrew Doughman/Nevada News Bureau) – The argument goes like this: every Nevadan would only pay 50 cents per person for a great renewable energy program.
Energy lobbyist Ted Ko even held up two shiny quarters during a legislative hearing to make the point.
But legislators are considering more than a dozen renewable energy bills this session, and some lawmakers fear that a few dollars here and there will add up to significantly higher utility bills for their constituents if all of these bills pass.
“Pretty soon that 50 cents is $5 because there’s a lot going on … By the end of today’s discussion, we are going to have seven or eight bills that are ‘just 50 cents each,’ so it adds up,” said Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, at a legislative hearing last week.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, also a Democrat from North Las Vegas, said many of her constituents live in older, larger homes and pay more than average for energy. Ko used 50 cents because it represents 0.5 percent of an “average” utility bill, the rate that people would pay under Senate Bill 184.
Kirkpatrick said her constituents could pay much more.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a $100 bill in my life. … It’s not 50 cents to my constituents,” she said at a hearing last week.
Other bills being considered at the Legislature would raise subsidies for solar and wind and start a new subsidy for the purchase of electric-powered vehicles. Anybody receiving energy through a utility company would pay for these.
That is in addition to a 2009 program providing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy subsidies to be paid out over several years.
And Nevadans already pay more than the national average for their energy, says Dan Jacobsen of the Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection.
At the same time, Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative leaders regularly tout the prospects for the renewable energy sector in Nevada.
Sandoval recently said he wants Nevada to be “the renewable energy capital of the world.”
Providing subsidies and government programs to attract investment in renewable energy could have many benefits for Nevada.
Renewable-energy factories in Nevada could provide high-paying manufacturing jobs and boost property tax revenues for local governments.
The renewable energy sector could also bolster Nevada’s ailing construction industry and provide jobs.
Lobbyists for renewable energy companies say that the long-term economic gain outweighs the cost of incentives that ratepayers subsidize.
“We definitely want to avoid a situation that would impact ratepayers to their detriment,” said Rose McKinney-James, a lobbyist for the Solar Alliance.
She said it would be dangerous to imperil the young renewable-energy industry by “pulling the rug out” rather than slowly weening the industry off subsidies.
“The challenge is this: how fast do you go and how much do you ask the base ratepayer to subsidize this?” Jacobson asked.
Ratepayers could see about a 2 percent increase on their utility bills if these bills pass, Jacobsen said, describing the impact of each bill during an interview last week.
NV Energy is already seeking a 5 percent increase for Southern Nevada customers and a 3 percent increase for Northern Nevada customers for “lost sales compensation” as customers have conserved more energy.
The utility company expects the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to deliver a ruling on the proposed rate increase sometime next week.
In the meantime, legislators plan to whittle down the number of bills they are considering. They could carve up the bills and strike a compromise before the Legislature hits its looming deadline for passing bills.
“We definitely can’t do them all,” Atkinson said of all the bills.