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Despite Veto, Renewable Energy Advocates Vow To Fight On

The last bill Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed on Friday broke environmentalists’ hearts.

It was Assembly Bill 206, which would have mandated that Nevada energy companies produce 40 percent of their energy with renewables by 2030. Currently, Nevada has a goal of 25 percent renewables by 2025.

Chris Brooks is Assemblyman for District 10 in Clark County. He has worked in the energy sector and even owned his own solar company. He is the author of AB206.

“Our thoughts were that it would insulate consumers in Nevada from potential cost increases from fluctuating fossil fuels,” Brooks explained. 

He said currently Nevada gets 70 percent of its energy from fossil fuels from outside the state, which he said can be volatile in price. Under the bill, when an aging natural gas or coal-fired power plant needed to be replaced, NV Energy and Sierra Pacific would instead bring more renewable sources online. 

It would have also eliminated some of what are known as 'multipliers,' which basically means the extra credits toward the renewable standard awarded for certain types of green energy sources. For instance, geothermal is counted as one and half percentage points.  

Elspeth DiMarzio with the Sierra Club said currently the real number of actually renewable energy on the grid is close to 14 percent. 

“What AB206 tried to do was really push Nevada toward the clean energy future that I think our state needs,” DiMarzio said.

Those opposed to the plan, including the Nevada Resort Association, were concerned that rates might rise as the power companies invest in new renewable energy plants. Dylan Sullivan with the National Resources Defense Council argued against that and pointed out that solar power has come down significantly.

“Solar in Nevada is some of the cheapest electricity you can buy anywhere in the United States,” he said.

Plus, companies are now looking at renewable energy sources when considering which state to set up in.

“By making a strong committee to clean energy, Nevada becomes more attractive to those companies and they are the marquee names," he said. 

Governor Sandoval vetoed the bill because he wasn't sure how the Energy Choice Initiative - on the ballot again in 2018 - would change energy markets. He didn't want NV Energy, for instance, to invest in infrastructure to meet higher renewables standards, then be stuck with stranded assets if the state's energy market is broken up.

“That’s not really the way it works,” Sullivan said in response to the governor's argument. 

He said even if the energy sector is broken up like it is 15 other states, those plants would still be producing long into the future and energy choice advocates list higher renewables standards as one of their key goals.

Brooks said the wait-and-see approach advocated by the governor is not something the climate or the state has time to do. He said thousands of jobs would have been created by the new energy standard. DiMarzio said under the current standard those jobs and that money is going to another state for fossil fuels.

“All of the money we spend on burning coal and fracked gas in this state," she said, "We’re just shipping that money out of state when those could be Nevada jobs for the Nevada clean energy economy.”

Two big casino companies, Las Vegs Sands and Wynn Resorts both opposed the bill, although for different reasons. On the other side, MGM Resorts International supported the plan. The company released this statement: 

"Crafting energy policy is a complex undertaking with consequences that affect virtually every household and business in Nevada, and so we appreciate there are differing points of view.  We support AB206 because it is consistent with the importance we place on developing renewable energy sources and continues to advance the state of Nevada as a leader in implementing progressive energy policy." –MGM Resorts International

Elspeth DiMarzio, Nevada campaign representative, the Sierra Club; Dylan Sullivan, National Resources Defense Council; Assemblyman Chris Brooks D-Dist. 10

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)