Nevada Utilities Missing 'Green Power' Deadline

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Nevada's two major electric utilities would avoid fines for not meeting a mandate to have at least 5 percent of their power coming from solar, geothermal, wind and other "green" sources by 2003, under terms of a pending order from regulators.

The state Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote July 21 on an order being drafted by Commissioner Carl Linvill following a hearing Tuesday on exemptions sought by Reno-based Sierra Pacific Power Co. and Las Vegas-based Nevada Power Co.

The 2001 Legislature imposed the renewable energy portfolio standard, which requires the utilities to have incremental increases in their green power supply so that they wind up with 15 percent of their power from such sources by 2013.

But Mark Harris, a resource planning engineer with the PUC, told Linvill it was impossible for the two big utilities to meet the solar energy requirement, a small part of the overall 5 percent, because there wasn't enough solar energy for sale.

Sierra Pacific has a supply of geothermal power and meets a non-solar green energy requirement, but Nevada Power can't meet that standard because companies that bid to provide the non-solar power didn't have their projects completed or on line in 2003, Linvill was told.

While an exemption is warranted for 2003, Harris recommended against an exemption at this point for 2004. Discussing Nevada Power, he questioned whether the utility will be able to comply - but added a waiver now "is premature and may have a chilling effect on Nevada Power's efforts to comply."

The two utilities filed a report saying they won't meet all the 2003 or 2004 standards but are continuing to work with green energy developers, and have launched a new effort so they can meet terms of the law in 2005 and 2006 - when they're supposed to have 7 percent of their power from green sources.

Among problems they encountered were the failures of a wind power project at the Nevada Test Site and a geothermal venture near Reno, and delays in several other projects in the Fallon and Ely areas and elsewhere.

A report last year from the Nevada Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Task Force said Nevada has abundant wind, solar and geothermal power sources, and if 15 percent of the state's power usage came from such sources that would translate into $665 million a year created by economic benefits.

Those benefits would be created by the new jobs and business-related activity involved in an expanded alternative energy market, according to the report.