Photo By Dennis Myers Carson City sheriff’s cars blocked Fifth Street adjacent to the legislative building during Sen. Harry Reid’s speech, generating complaints. Sheriff Ken Furlong said his office was just assisting, and the decision to close the street was made at the legislature. The legislative police office said its chief, Bob Milby, is not allowed to speak to the press.

In 1969, two young first-term members of the Nevada Assembly, Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, made a splash and launched their careers with a spate of environmental and consumer-oriented legislation, including utility measures.

Bryan has long since retired, but Reid is still in public office and still working on utility issues.

Last week he returned to the Nevada Assembly hall—a different hall than the one where he served—and called on state legislators to do as he and Bryan did—crack down on utilities. In 1969 the issue was rates. Today the issue is renewables. Reid, apparently upset that NV Energy has reduced its use of renewable energy sources by lobbying to soften the requirements under which it operates, called for reversing those loopholes.

“Nevada deserts bake in the afternoon sun,” he told lawmakers in a speech to the two houses. “Winds whip off the snow-capped mountain peaks for which our state is named. And below the soils of Northern Nevada, water heated deep in the Earth bubbles to the surface. The renewable energy industry has been a bright spot during dark economic times, helping our state attract new businesses and create thousands of jobs that can never be outsourced. … These successes didn’t happen by accident. They are the result of more than a decade of coordination between businesses, utilities and all levels of government. The linchpin for this progress is a state law that guarantees a market for Nevada’s clean, renewable energy resources. This law, better known as the renewable portfolio standard, requires a minimum percentage of electricity to come from renewable sources. … The legislature most recently updated the law in 2009, requiring Nevada utilities to produce 18 percent of their energy from a combination of renewable resources and energy efficiency measures by 2013. By 2025, a quarter of the energy used in Nevada homes and businesses must come from renewable sources. And although the standard has helped vastly increase the percentage of green energy flowing through Nevada’s grid, there are problems with the statute. Loopholes allow utilities to evade the spirit of the law. In fact, those loopholes are so large Nevada’s major utility could meet the standard without building a single megawatt of new renewable energy for the rest of the decade.”

Reid may not have used the corporation’s name, but everyone knew what he was talking about.

Reid is the Democratic floor leader in the Senate, and NV Energy execs chose not to rise to the bait, instead seeking to turneth away wrath, issuing a statement full of soft words:

“NV Energy has made remarkable progress with its renewable energy portfolio, and our customers are now benefiting from nearly 40 geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, waste heat recovery and small hydro facilities throughout Nevada. We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Reid, Governor Sandoval, our legislature, and regulators to constantly improve our energy portfolio in the best interests of the state, our customers and our shareholders.”

NV Energy has satisfied its use of renewables by buying energy from renewable sources out of state, undercutting the effort to get more renewable generation of power in Nevada.

Under the softened version of the law, utilities can invest in energy efficiency and thereby get credits toward the renewable requirements, thus undercutting the drive for generating more renewable power in Nevada. Reid supporters claim that times in the energy market have changed and that if NV Energy is permitted to meet renewable standards with energy efficiency, it actually reduces the chance of construction of renewable plants.

And when NV Energy exceeds, with its out-of-state purchases, its use of renewables beyond what is legally required, it can take a credit that can be applied to future years, which is what Reid meant about NV Energy being able to coast through the next decade.

None of this helps with state government’s goal of developing a renewable energy industry.

Targeting coal

In addition, by contrast with the period of the 1970s and ’80s, news entities seldom pay attention to these issues, so their urgency flies below the radar.

Following the 1973 energy crisis, and for a couple of decades thereafter, Nevada television stations and newspapers covered public utilities regulation as a beat, which raised public consciousness and helped lead to creation of the post of Nevada consumer advocate, which represents consumers in utility hearings.

By the time renewable energy became mainstream as a utilities issue, the news coverage of utility issues has declined dramatically, and all the later loopholes in the law happened without much publicity on television or in newspapers. With those matters being handled out of the glare of the spotlight, pressure on the players was reduced.

Reid, who has become a dedicated enemy of coal-generated energy, also engaged in a tussle with NV Energy in December, when Los Angeles entered a cooperative renewable energy agreement with the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, whose Nevada reservation has been noted for high joblessness. It was a project Reid supported, and he took the occasion to jump on NV Energy for keeping the Reid Gardner Generating Station going.

“This poor tribe has been beleaguered from its very beginning,” Reid told Las Vegas columnist John L. Smith. “Now attorneys are looking at the litigation aspects of this because the power company has … burned more than 50 million tons of coal in the last 47 years. A
lot of that bad stuff winds up on the Indian reservation, which is a couple football fields away.”

There are three coal plants in Nevada that Reid would like to see shut down.

Reid has also promoted the Laughlin solar plant planned by the ENN Energy Group, even though his son Rory Reid is a representative of ENN, a Chinese firm. The potential for conflict of interest has been a topic of conservative commentary on sites like Breitbart.com.

Reid’s speech got far less attention than his remarks to the legislature two years ago, when he proposed that the lawmakers outlaw brothel prostitution, a proposal that got publicity around the world—and was dead on arrival in the Nevada Legislature.

Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...