Checks and Balances Project Launches Investigation of Nevada PUC Commissioner David Noble

Checks and Balances Project Investigates Nevada Commissioner David NobleMy colleague Evlondo Cooper and I just returned from a six-day fact-finding visit to Nevada, where we met with reporters and editors, civic leaders, and others. Our trip to Carson City, Reno, and Las Vegas was designed to give us a better understanding of the dynamic between the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the state’s largest utility, NV Energy. It is part of our ongoing Captured Regulators Initiative.

Regulatory Capture 

The concept of “regulatory capture” was first described by Noble Prize-winning economist George J. Stigler in 1971. Although the problem is probably older than the Romans, Stigler described it as a situation in which a public agency, created to regulate a powerful industry for the benefit and protection of the public, instead is captured by the very industry it is supposed to oversee.

In Arizona, the Captured Regulators Initiative has uncovered powerful, circumstantial evidence that former Chairman, now Commissioner, Bob Stump and others on the Arizona Corporation Commission are captured by that state’s powerful utility Arizona Public Service (APS) – essentially acting as APS consultants, rather than impartial overseers of large parts of the state’s economy.

First FOIA Request

Checks and Balances Project Investigates Nevada Commissioner David Noble

David Noble

Now we are also turning our attention to Nevada, where Public Utility Commissioner David Noble was described by many people we talked to last week as by far the most “utility friendly” of the three commissioners. One source told us that Noble had been talking to audiences outside of the state about the threat to utilities by rooftop solar, something we will seek to confirm in the months ahead.

On Wednesday, August 19, we attended a PUC meeting in Carson City that Commissioner Noble presided over. Although the meeting was largely procedural, we were surprised at how Noble lashed out at a lawyer from the pro-solar group TASC for being workmanlike during official meetings but antagonistic in public. He struck us as being remarkably thin skinned for a public official whose salary is paid by taxpayers.

We begin our effort to determine if Commissioner Noble is a captured regulator with a request to obtain or review the record of his contacts with NV Energy and the utility trade association, the Edison Electric Institute. We have embedded it in this post in case you want to read it. Due to the importance of this issue to Nevadans at this phase of the state’s high-stakes energy debate, we believe these are critical questions to ask.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

 

Nevada’s Surging Rooftop Solar Growth Threatened by Warren Buffett’s Investments in Nevada Utility

NV Energy parent bluntly admits that rooftop solar programs cut into utility profits

by Scott Peterson

Nevada has more solar jobs per capita than any other state and with 300+ days of sunshine per year, the sky could be the limit for carbon-free energy production from rooftop solar.  Then why is NV Energy, Nevada’s largest utility, lobbying to limit its growth?

Nevada’s Surging Rooftop Solar Growth Threatened by Warren Buffett’s Investments in Nevada Utility

Photo by Peter Yang

A recent article in the Las Vegas Sun, Solar industry squares off with Warren Buffett and NV Energy, explains how it comes down to protecting monopoly-utility profits.

In his article, Reporter Kyle Roerink writes how a senior vice president of NV Energy’s Iowa-based parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, bluntly admitted at an energy conference last year that rooftop solar programs cut into utility profits.

3% Participation Limit 

In Nevada, there is a limit to how many residential customers can participate in solar net metering programs. That limit is 3% of all utility customers consuming energy during periods of peak demand. The solar industry says that limit could be reached by the end of the year. NV Energy, which was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway Energy in 2013, is lobbying Nevada government officials hard to ensure that the limit is not increased. Currently, there is no bill in the Nevada legislature to increase the 3% limit and the 2015 session ends soon.

Like other electric utilities, NV Energy owes its profits to its government-protected monopoly position and it is doing whatever it can to maintain that privileged position. That includes standing in the way of competition and choice for Nevada’s power-consuming public, in part by pushing to maintain the cap on the number of Nevadans who can get paid a fair market price for the rooftop solar power they generate.

Utility-Scale Solar

NV Energy fully understands the benefits of utility-scale solar power, with the company’s website touting utility-scale solar projects like Crescent Dunes (110 megawatts) and Nevada Solar One (69 megawatts). In other words, NV Energy’s high-paid corporate executives are perfectly happy to benefit from the extra profits they make due from the return on investments from new utility-scale solar power projects. But residential rooftop solar – well, that’s another matter.

According to a study by Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission, solar power net metering has not cost Nevada ratepayers a penny, but has actually created millions of dollars in energy savings.

In 2014, Nevada’s solar industry saw a stunning 146% growth in jobs. Yet if NV Energy gets its way, that future growth is threatened.  That should be completely unacceptable, and people need to tell their legislators and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval loudly and clearly right now.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.