by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
When NV Energy turned to Nevada lawmakers last year to salvage a massive transmission line project that state utility regulators had already partially denied because of the potential cost to ratepayers, the utility’s CEO testified any increase to customers was years away.
“We will put thousands of people to work today and Nevadans will not be asked to pay for this investment until at least five to six years down the road.” NV Energy’s Doug Cannon told legislators, who approved the $2.5 billion project, known as Greenlink Nevada.
Now, just a year later, NV Energy is asking federal regulators to grant permission (called incentives) for the utility to come back and request that ratepayers offset the costs of the project’s construction and pay for its troubles should Greenlink be canceled.
NV Energy is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the Warren Buffett-controlled company that earned $90.8 billion last year.
“NV Energy’s Greenlink Nevada transmission initiative will bring important environmental and economic benefits to all Nevadans. We are committed to developing the project in a cost-effective manner and minimizing customer rate impacts,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said via email.
The move pits the utility against hotel behemoths MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment, the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Public Utilities Commission, and the national watchdog organization, Public Citizen.
Public Citizen argues that Berkshire Hathaway’s “superior financial resources render incentives unnecessary.”
“Berkshire Hathaway functions as capitalism’s ATM: corporations turn to it when desperate and in need of cash,” the watchdog group wrote in a protest filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
In an intervention filed with FERC on Monday, MGM Resorts International and Caesars Enterprise Services LLC write the “Investment in Greenlink Nevada will put upward pressure on NV Energy customer rates, a fact that cannot be ignored as NV Energy attempts to shift Greenlink Nevada project risk from the Companies to customers through its proposed incentives which will add unnecessary significant costs for customers.”
Public Citizen says the move by Berkshire Hathaway is “contrary to the justifications Berkshire Hathaway pledged when it acquired Nevada Power in 2013.”
“If the commission is going to approve ginormous utility mergers that claim to produce benefits for consumers, the Commission must hold companies to the promises they made to FERC,” Public Citizen asserts in its protest.
The Nevada Attorney General’s office, representing the state Bureau of Consumer Protection, filed a motion with FERC to intervene and protest.
“The BCP does not support the Companies’ request for incentive rate treatment for the Greenlink Nevada project given that it will unnecessarily increase costs for Nevada’s electric ratepayers,” the AG’s office wrote on behalf of the BCP.
The state’s Public Utilities Commission filed a request with federal regulators to comment on NV Energy’s request, and urged that regulators take “a measured view of the impact that incentives may have on customers of the utilities while recognizing the statutory requirement to limit ‘rate shock.’”
The rate incentives sought by NV Energy “would compel hundreds of thousands of captive household customers to function as the utilities’ free bank and insurance, resulting in profoundly unjust and unreasonable rates,” according to Public Citizen’s protest.
In 2020, NV Energy proposed the 600 mile Greenlink project – a western transmission line from Las Vegas to Yerington, and a northern line from Yerington to Ely. The PUC allowed NV Energy to proceed on the western line but only allowed permitting and land acquisition, not construction, of the northern line.
State lawmakers stepped in and approved the entire plan last year.
Last year, Gov. Steve Sisolak said on Facebook that Greenlink Nevada will “unlock for all Nevadans the sustainability & economic benefits that come from providing essential transmission access to our State’s vast renewable energy resources & exemplifies the potential of my vision for NV’s new energy economy.”
“As this is going through an independent regulatory process, the Governor’s Office has no comment,” spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said Monday via email.
“There is nothing that demonstrates that rates will necessarily go up at all,” state Sen. Chris Brooks, who championed the project, told the Current a year ago after the Legislature gave the transmission lines its stamp of approval.
He said the cost would be shared among everyone using the transmission over a long period, including companies attracted by the new transmission lines, which would reduce costs borne by individual ratepayers.
Brooks did not respond Monday to requests for comment.
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