Discussion of bill stopping power plant sales to continue Wednesday | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Discussion of bill stopping power plant sales to continue Wednesday


CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – Lawmakers hit more delays Monday in trying to pass a measure that pulls the plug on the sale of Nevada power plants to avoid California-style energy problems.

”The goal of this bill is only stopping the divestiture of power plants and making sure it’s constitutional,” said Senate Commerce and Labor Chairman Randolph Townsend, R-Reno. ”And that’s not as easy as it sounds.”

Townsend’s comment just before his committee began working on SB253 was prophetic – witnesses kept bringing up the need for more flexibility in the measure.

Translation: Don’t kill all deals by stopping Reno-based Sierra Pacific Power and Las Vegas-based Nevada Power from selling their Nevada power plants until June 2003 – and possibly until 2006.

Pete Ernaut, a lobbyist for Reliant Energy which has been trying to buy a power plant, said unforeseen market changes could make a plant sale before 2003 a deal that would be in the public’s interest.

”If you put a two-year moratorium on these plants, all these deals are going to go away,” he said. ”When the cow leaves the barn, it’s difficult to catch.”

Townsend had hoped to wrap up committee work on SB253 on Monday. Now it’s up for review again Wednesday in the Commerce and Labor Committee.

Reliant isn’t the only company trying to keep power plant purchases alive. Earlier this month, executives of Pinnacle West Energy told the committee that it’s in the public’s interest to allow Sierra Pacific Resources to sell its Harry Allen power plant.

The Harry Allen plant produces about 72 megawatts out of the 2,900 megawatts of energy that Nevada utilities generate. Pinnacle has plans to expand that to 700 megawatts by 2004.

Other provisions not strictly related to the plant divestitures, such as ways in which Sierra Pacific and Nevada Power can recover the cost of undoing the sales contracts, don’t have to be included in SB253, Townsend said.

Townsend said the other concerns dealing with the energy crisis and utility deregulation can be handled in later bills – but the power plant sale issue must be handled now.

Nevada’s PUC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had directed Sierra Pacific and Nevada Power to sell the plants as a condition of the companies’ merger in 1999 under the parent company Sierra Pacific Resources.

Critics of the plant sales say the plants generate about half the state’s electricity – and if they’re sold, the unregulated new owners could sell the power to other states and put Nevada into the energy dilemma California faces of shrinking supply and rising prices.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has presented an analysis stating that rate payers will save from $1.7 billion to $3.5 billion by July 2001 if the power plant sales are stopped.

Nevada’s Consumer Advocate’s Office previously had projected a conservative estimate of $915 million in savings.

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