"The governor supports the bill," Crowley said in her brief statement to lawmakers on Friday afternoon, shortly before a legislative committee voted to amend NV Energy's proposal to Senate Bill 123. She also noted the jobs that would be created if NV Energy launches projects to build natural gas and renewable energy power plants.
Crowley declined to be interviewed for this report, referring questions to Sandoval's press secretary.
Ernaut, who is a friend and top political adviser to Sandoval, said he personally lobbied the governor for his support, bypassing the stakeholder meetings that Sandoval's staff had called to try and reach a consensus on the bill.
Sandoval's press secretary, Mary-Sarah Kinner, indicated the governor's support isn't absolute and that he will continue to work with stakeholders to address the issues.
"The governor supports this bill and the development of a plan for a transition away from coal generation," Kinner said. "That said, this is a complex set of issues and we look forward to continuing to work with the utility and the Legislature on the bill."
Kinner did not address why Sandoval rejected his traditional strategy of remaining neutral on legislation pending before the Legislature.
The fact that Sandoval would back the utility over the concerns of the gaming industry and others surprised some involved in the process.
Sources familiar with the meeting said Sandoval's general counsel and chief policy adviser, Lucas Foletta, was pushing the governor to take a neutral approach while the stakeholders hammered out the details of the plan and was critical of the utility's effort to rush the bill through.
Many in the meeting assumed Sandoval would remain neutral.
"But at some point, he decided to endorse the proposal," the source said.
Foletta, who declined to comment for this story, tendered his resignation later that day after losing his effort to persuade the governor to remain neutral.
"It's fair to say that it was probably the driving factor," said a source with knowledge of the utility's meetings with the governor's office.
Ernaut acknowledged the utility is making a concerted effort to win Sandoval over early. Last session, Sandoval vetoed a major transmission line bill, largely because it was pushed through in the final hour of the session.
The utility doesn't want to risk a repeat of that.
Nor do lawmakers.
Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy committee tasked with working out the details of the legislation, said he had been assured early on that Sandoval would support the measure.
But he declined to say who gave him such assurances, whether it was the governor's staff or NV Energy's lobbyists.
"(I) wasn't going down that road again, like we did all last session, doing all that work, only to get a veto," Atkinson said.
During the past two weeks, NV Energy lobbyists and company representatives have hosted a frenzy of private meetings with regulators, consumer advocates, large energy users, energy companies, the governor's office and environmental groups in hopes that it could assemble an invincible alliance of stakeholders to support the bill.
NV Energy spokesman Rob Stillwell said those discussions have been "very positive."
"I don't know what somebody might be characterizing as serious concerns," he said. "Obviously it's a big issue, but I think they've been very positive discussions."
But the utility has already heard critiques from the state's consumer advocate and muted concern from NV Energy's state regulators, the Public Utilities Commission.
While there's near unanimous support for the idea of getting Nevada off of coal, the actual substance of the bill faces sustained concern from powerful stakeholders.
Despite a significant amendment that Ernaut told legislators was a "product" of discussions with stakeholders, the gaming industry's neutral position on the bill could flip to opposition if its concerns aren't met.
"We support the move to eliminate coal, and we look forward to working with NV Energy on how we achieve that and getting a better understanding of what the impacts are to ratepayers with respect to replacing coal," said Russell Rowe, lobbyist for Boyd Gaming.
Boyd Gaming has reason to be concerned. Ten of the top 20 energy users for Nevada Power, the southern subsidiary of NV Energy, are casinos, according to 2012 data the utility company filed with the federal government.
But the Nevada Resort Association, the organization that represents large gaming interests, still needs time to review the proposal, said Virginia Valentine, the organization's president.
The complicated proposal is less than two weeks old. The company introduced two versions of NVision within 10 days, both just hours before legislative hearings.
Ernaut repeatedly emphasized that NV Energy's proposal won't pass muster if it doesn't simultaneously keep Sandoval's support and win the gaming industry's favor.
"If those issues are not worked out, this bill will not pass," he said, opening the door for a third amendment to the proposal.
But if gaming wants to limit the bill to a few regulatory changes, he suggested the utility would spike its own proposal.
"If it made the bill no longer makes business sense, then the power company would pull the plug themselves," he said.
(c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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