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Alternative energy backers testify before lawmakers

by Jeff Munson

Two Carson Valley residents testified before the Nevada Legislature this week on separate measures that, if passed, would hold utilities more accountable when it comes to alternative energy use.

Gardnerville resident Marion Barritt, vice president of Sunrise Sustainable Resources Group, a Carson Valley conservation non-profit organization, testified on a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

Also, Alan Caldwell of Minden testified before the Senate Commerce and Labor committee on measures that would call for utilities to utilize wind and solar resources in Nevada to produce energy.

Caldwell is president of Sierra Concepts Inc., a wind development firm in the Carson Valley.

No Nevada utilities use wind power generation, while the state’s neighbor, California, has been at the forefront of this technology, said Bob Cooper, senior regulatory analyst with the Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“West of the Rockies, Nevada is second only to New Mexico in potential wind resource that can be converted to electricity,” said Caldwell. “And as of yet it has not been tapped.”

Caldwell told legislators that Nevada is sitting on an untapped energy source that other western states have already capitalized on. What’s more is that Nevada’s weather systems generate more wind than states such as California and Oregon.

“We have potentially close to 6,000 megawatts of potential developable wind resources in the state. Combined with solar and geothermal energy Nevada could become the renewable energy capital of the U.S.,” Caldwell said.

At the other end of the building, Barritt testified in support of Assembly Bill 197.

The bill would require utilities to disclose to consumers the source of their energy. If the measure passes, consumers would be able to see on their utility bills whether the energy consumed was derived from coal, natural gas, nuclear energy or renewable energy.

In addition, the utility would be required to rank the emissions it took to generate the power.

“This is really an education bill,” Barritt said. “It informs the consumer as to where their energy comes from and it provides them with information that would allow them to make informed energy decisions in the future.”

The bill is being supported by the utility industry.

In Nevada, the primary source of energy to generate electricity is derived from coal burning, followed by natural gas. Efforts are under way at the legislative level to promote alternative energy sources.

But the road is a difficult one because utility companies have not supported renewable energy such as wind and solar power, Cooper said.

A key issue is an existing law in place that establishes standards for domestic energy. The law requires that a minimum percentage of the total electricity sold each year should come from an alternative energy source such as wind or solar power.

Even though the law is on the books, Sierra Pacific has argued that it is not financially viable and has attempted to ignore the law, Cooper said.

A legal brief filed by several environmental groups, including Sunrise and the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, have petitioned the state’s Public Utilities Commission to force Sierra Pacific to abide by the law.

Cooper said he’s confident some agreement can be reached.

“I’m pretty hopeful that the utility can be convinced that renewable energy is not only cost-effective, but in the best interest of all Nevadans,” Cooper said.