Drawing power lines

Try as exhausted legislators might, a midnight deadline passed with business in the state of Nevada still undone. In fact, a 1 a.m. Tuesday deadline—a legislative attorney said daylight savings made it OK to extend the deadline—came, and the business of redistricting was still undone.

When small children start to argue, a good parent knows what to do. Whine about who sits in the front seat of the car, and you can all sit in the back.

So maybe we should just forget drawing new lines to decide, among other things, who’ll get to vote for Nevada’s new Congressperson. We’ll just tell the feds that we don’t want a third representative in Congress, since we can’t agree on whether to weight that voting district with the voterly poundage desired by Democrats or that which resounds with Republicans.

Instead, we have to let our mature legislators continue bickering in a special session. So it’ll cost the state $80,000 per day. That’s the price you pay for democracy—the two-party version.

On the illuminating side, at least legislators took care of utility re-deregulation minutes before the 2001 session came to a close. The final version of AB 661 lets big watt-suckers (aka casinos and mines) shop around for good deals on electricity. Because the big users will have to sell back 10 percent of the power they buy, at cost, to Nevada utilities, this should squeeze out more juice for Joanna Q. Public’s daily light bulbs. But if Joanna wants to shop around for power, she’s simply out of luck.

In exchange for this stroke to big businesses in Nevada, AB 661 featured an $11 million energy assistance fund for poor and fixed-income consumers. The money will be raised by adding 43 cents to Joanna’s monthly power bill. Watt-mongers will have to pitch in, too, but their contributions will be capped at $100,000 annually. Hmm.

AB 661’s call for use of more renewables by utilities is good. Sierra Pacific Resources will have to increase the amount of wind, solar and geothermal stuff in their energy portfolio from 1 percent to 15 percent. Will they pass the higher cost of this environmentally friendly burden to the ratepayers? I’d bet on it. But it’s not such a bad investment.

About a week ago, I talked to Scott Underwood, interim director of the Nevada Utility Reform Alliance. He said he wouldn’t complain if the power company’s green-energy use made his power bill go up a bit.

“I’d go without power for a month if I could get them to do something with solar,” Underwood said. Nuclear power, on the other hand, is at the very bottom of his list of acceptable power-making modes.

“I’d rather pollute the world [with coal and natural-gas burning plants] than contaminate it for whatever the half-life of nuclear waste is,” he said.

NURA, a grassroots organization that began in the wake of Sierra Pacific’s 17 percent rate hike in March, will meet to review the results of the 2001 Legislative Session at 1 p.m. June 23. For meeting details, e-mail scott@scottunderwood.net, or call 329-4179.