NV Energy's powerful lobbying corps has quietly tried to muster wide support for
a major energy proposal at the Legislature, but the choreographed show it hoped
to premiere to legislators didn't go quite as planned.
The gaming industry, the largest energy user in Southern Nevada and a powerful lobbying interest, has expressed serious concerns with the utility's banner proposal, and Gov. Brian Sandoval's chief policy adviser and legal counsel resigned in the wake of the governor's decision to side with NV Energy on the issue.
Less than two weeks ago, the investor-owned utility unveiled a major new initiative to divest from coal-fired power generation and build new natural gas and renewable energy power plants. But NV Energy's bill also asks the Legislature to lock in a 10-year plan that would require ratepayers to shoulder the costs of the plan and limit the Public Utilities Commission's ability to oversee any associated rate hikes.
In a final, frenzied push Friday morning to move the bill through a critical committee deadline, NV Energy's lobbyists met with Sandoval's staff and major energy stakeholders, including gaming companies and renewable energy representatives.
Christening the proposal "NVision," the utility had hoped to emerge from that meeting with a public statement of support from the gaming industry and others after reworking their bill to address both stakeholder and lawmaker concerns.
That joint support didn't materialize. Instead, major industries are gathering intelligence and deciding whether they want to mobilize for what could be a protracted and expensive fight among some of the state's most powerful industries and lobbyists.
"There are still serious concerns," said one source familiar with the meeting, who described the gaming industry's reaction.
Gaming companies are still trying to understand what the utility's proposal does, how much it would raise rates and how much it would relax regulatory standards that could protect the gaming industry, and all ratepayers, from higher rates.
NV Energy's lead lobbyist, Pete Ernaut, downplayed the simmering conflict, noting it's still early in the session and the utility still has time to address the gaming industry's concerns.
"Let me put it this way: The prospect of NV Energy trying to pass a bill over the objections of its biggest customers is zero," Ernaut said. "It's just incumbent on NV Energy to work with customers to make sure they are 100 percent on board."
Ernaut is in a unique position to do that. He not only represents NV Energy at the Legislature; he also represents the Nevada Resort Association, the gaming industry's chief lobbying arm.
While NV Energy's lobbyists fell short of securing gaming's unanimous support of the bill, they did nail down early support from one critical player: Sandoval.
Jettisoning his traditional strategy of reserving comment on any specific bill as lawmakers debate the particulars of it, Sandoval came out early in support of NV Energy's plan despite the fact many major stakeholders continue to have serious concerns about the legislation.
Following the contentious meeting, Sandoval dispatched his energy adviser, Stacey Crowley, to tell lawmakers at a critical committee hearing that NV Energy's proposal had the governor's support.
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