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Lawmakers look to promote renewables

Anne Knowles

The Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee last week heard a handful of bills designed to promote the use of renewable energy.

Assemblyman Jason Geddes (RWashoe) introduced Assembly Bill 314, which is designed to encourage consumers to switch to renewable energy by helping them pay for the equipment needed to convert to solar, wind or other alternative energy sources.

The bill requires the state to create a “corporation for public benefit,” that would make low-interest loans at an annual rate of 1.99 percent to homeowners and small businesses for the purpose of purchasing and installing equipment to reduce and conserve energy.

The loans would be for periods of not less than three years and not more than 10 years.

It also requires the public utility to buy and install equipment for users, who pay back the provider over time.

Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Power currently have a program called net metering for residential and small commercial customers who generate a portion of their electricity through solar or wind energy.

The net meter enables the electric company to keep track of the difference between what it provides and what the user generates.

So far, though, only 35 customers statewide have signed up for net metering – a problem legislators hope to solve by providing a way for Nevadans to finance conversion to renewable energy.

AB 314 originally earmarked funding for the program from the state’s Universal Energy Charge, but that was dropped, said Geddes.

“He told us he couldn’t find money for it and I guess we’re it,” said Judy Stokey, a lobbyist for Sierra Pacific, who testified in opposition to the bill.

“It requires the provider to become a largescale distributor and bank.”

Others testified in support of the bill, although Joe Johnson, a lobbyist for Sunrise Sustainable Resources and the Toiyabe chapter of the Sierra Club, had an amendment that excluded water as a renewable energy source.

The definition of renewable energy, and whether it includes water, came up in discussion of other bills.

Assembly Bill 429, introduced by Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick (RDouglas), sets up a state program to help people defray or recover the costs of net metering systems.

It, too, includes “waterpower” in its definition of renewable energy.

“This came from a couple different sources, ranchers and farmers in Carson Valley,” said Hettrick, who have streams and creeks running through their property that could be used to generate electricity.

Barrick Gold Corp.

wanted water included, too, said lobbyist Susan Fisher.

During gold mining, water is pumped out of the mine using fossil fuel.

It is then reinjected into the ground elsewhere, but could also be used to produce power.

After payroll, electricity is mining’s biggest cost.

“We’re fine with ‘water power created without a dam,”’ one suggested definition for hydropower, said Fisher.

Also last week, the Nevada Renewable Energy Conservation Task Force released a report saying the state could create thousands of jobs and generate $21.5 billion in gross state product in the next three decades by meeting its renewable energy portfolio.

The portfolio standard requires that at least 15 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2013.

The report found that Nevada paid $2.5 billion to out-of-state energy producers in 2002.

It claimed southern Nevada is one of the best sources for solar energy in the world, and said Nevada’s wind resources could generate 50.5 million megawatt hours of electricity.

It also said that 5,500 jobs annually will be attributable to renewable energy once the state meets its 15 percent portfolio standard.

The report was produced by Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.