Assembly committee passes long-awaited energy bill |

Assembly committee passes long-awaited energy bill


CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – A bill that exempts casinos, mines and other major power consumers from a new law that delays utility deregulation in Nevada was approved Wednesday by an Assembly panel.

The Assembly Select Committee on Energy endorsed AB661 a month after the panel was expected to take final action on the measure.

”This is just one step in the journey of the bill,” said an exasperated Assemblyman Doug Bache, D-Las Vegas, the committee chairman. ”And I’m sure we will be seeing it again.”

AB661 allows large energy users to buy power on the open market, establishes consumer safeguards, and changes the size and some operating procedures of the state Public Utilities Commission.

Five efforts to pass AB661 earlier Wednesday and on Tuesday had failed, causing committee members to recess twice to negotiate in private with lobbyists on final wording of the bill.

Final changes included removal of an amendment that creates an energy assistance fund for poor and fixed-income people.

Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick pushed to drop the amendment, saying it was inappropriate because the concept already was included in a separate bill, AB349, approved earlier by the Assembly.

The author of AB349, Assemblyman David Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, said the plan had been included in AB661 to ensure the assistance plan didn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Panel members also wrangled over an amendment proposed by the state’s consumer advocate that would shift millions of dollars in electric utility accounts.

Tim Hay argued that Reno-based Sierra Pacific Power and Las Vegas-based Nevada Power are making excess profits, and the utilities should shift the money to a different account to ensure rate payers could benefit.

Those opposing the amendment said it wasn’t needed. The PUC will consider the overearnings when it decides a rate case in October, and utility officials and others said shifting the money now would undermine support on Wall Street.

”It’s a real shame and a slap in the face to shareholders who have suffered worse than the ratepayers,” said Assemblywoman Kathy Von Tobel, R-Las Vegas.

As a compromise, the committee replaced the amendment with one sentence clarifying guidelines for the PUC to use when establishing rates.

The committee also voted unanimously to drop a ”jilted buyers” amendment.

Larry Semenza, representing Dynergy and NRG Energy, had told the committee Tuesday evening that companies that had planned to buy Nevada utilities’ power plants were unfairly blocked when lawmakers stopped the sale of the plants.

Under his ”right of first refusal” provision, over the next three years these companies could have stopped a bid from another company offering to buy the same power-generation facilities if they come up for sale. The so-called jilted company then would have had the opportunity to bid on the facility.

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