LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Utility companies that have met heavy criticism over rates and outages in recent months came face to face with lawmakers on Thursday in Carson City.

Representatives of NV Energy and Southwest Gas were on hand as the Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure convened for the first time in the 2023 Nevada Legislature. Leaders from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada were also on hand.

And while the session provided a “get to know you” forum, members of the Assembly had hard questions that they directed at NV Energy. Republican Jill Dickman said, “I would hope there’d be some plans, and things you’ve learned from that experience” after a storm that resulted in 1,400 outages around New Year’s Eve. She criticized NV Energy’s communication as the outages played out.

“Absolutely, a lot of lessons learned,” said Ryan Bellows, NV Energy Vice President of Government and External Relations. He said the utility was prepared for rains and flooding instead of heavy, wet snow — the third-wettest day in the area’s history.

From NV Energy’s Thursday presentation in Carson City.

Democrat Sarah Peters, who represents part of Reno, said power bills were a third higher — when she didn’t have power for a week. She said she had three inches of water in her basement from the storm.

The realities are similar for ratepayers and elected officials alike. But there was plenty of progress to talk about as well.

“This committee has really driven energy policy that has shaped the state, and has really driven Nevada toward a clean energy economy and a clean energy future,” Bellows said.

Expectations are high as Howard Watts III, a Las Vegas Democrat, leads the committee this session. Watts will continue the push to meet a 2030 goal of reaching 50% renewable energy. That seemed like an impossible hill to climb when Nevada set the goal but now seems very reachable.

Howard Watts III, chair of the Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrasture.

In 2021, NV Energy served customers with 31.9% renewable energy — ahead of the 24% goal, according to Bellows.

“Nevada’s stature as a leader in clean technology isn’t in dispute,” Watts said later Thursday afternoon when 8 News asked him about meeting the goals. He said a majority of the Legislature is interested in pursuing policies that make Nevada an attractive place to invest.

And those investments have been substantial, including:

  • A $3.6 billion plan to expand Tesla’s Gigafactory near Reno that will create 3,000 jobs
  • An emerging EV battery recycling company called Redwood that just secured a $2 billion federal loan
  • NV Energy’s “GreenLink” program that will provide a way to deliver electricity from new solar plants
  • Plans for the four largest solar projects under development in the U.S. — three in Esmeralda County and one in White Pine County
From NV Energy’s Thursday presentation in Carson City.

Watts said the projects and the jobs they will add to Nevada’s economy.

A broad presentation by NV Energy went into the growing pressure on the electric grid and challenges in meeting demand. While the utility owns 6,000 MegaWatts of electric generation, it still has to buy about 2,000 MegaWatts at times of high demand — and that’s getting tougher.

The massive development of solar energy planned between Reno and Las Vegas — as well as “GreenLink,” the transmission lines that will deliver that electricity — will provide relief in the future. But NV Energy is under pressure to meet demand until those projects start to contribute to the grid.

NV Energy is working to identify ways to fund development of community projects and large-scale projects through federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Putting together NV Energy funding from ratepayers and federal funds will help build many of these projects.

When Southwest Gas completed its presentation, there were questions and more criticism.

“I could probably get into Fort Knox easier than I can get hold of somebody in Elko County,” said Republican Assemblyman Bert Gurr, who represents most of the eastern half of Nevada. “Your office is locked up, you push a button, somebody may or may not show up.”

The ultimate answer: We hadn’t heard that was a problem and we’ll get back to you.

As far as your high Southwest Gas bills, Watts said, “The real reason that people’s rates have skyrocketed is that the price of natural gas has skyrocketed. They’ve gone through the roof.”