Q&A with Alaina Burtenshaw, Chairman, Nevada Public Utilities Commission 

What is your reaction to how the EPA’s carbon emissions rule might affect your state? What are some ways your state is already prepared and what might be more challenging?

It’s very confusing. When we first read it we thought oh, wow, we’re in pretty good shape. We don’t feel that way anymore.

I think there’s still a lot of confusion about what you can take into account that you’ve already done…You’ve already heard that Arizona’s talking about suing the federal government, the EPA. I think they’re really taking a hit. Folks in Idaho are beside themselves.

We’re going to retire all of the coal in Southern Nevada by 2019. So on some level we’ve already gotten started on something like that…I see that 111(d) is what we’ve already done—which is emissions reductions and capacity replacements.

Nevada, unlike some of the states, has a fairly robust and mature energy efficiency program and (renewable portfolio standard). So I think there’s still an awful lot of questions about to the extent to which we can use some of those tools for compliance.

Do you foresee your state having a formal or informal stakeholder process?

The West is always sort of an anomaly…a lot of the other states have (regional transmission organizations and independent system operators)…We don’t have a regional transmission organization, and I think a lot of what they’ve identified in 111(d) is sort of designed for people who are part of (that kind of) process. The West is still working on that so I think it will be fascinating.

Some of the Eastern problems are different than the Western problems, and I’m not sure that there’s a real understanding (of that)…I think we cooperate pretty well individually, but there’s always been a real reluctance to join an RTO.

I think people forget about the scale of the West…It’s easier to be regional when you’re really small.

A lot of us states have resources in other states-how is that going to work? California has built a lot of renewable energy in our state which right now looks like we will get credit for…They’re using our air, our land, our water—all of our resources to produce the electricity. I’m sure California is going to want to be able to take credit for what they’re paying for…You’ve got all these sort of regional things that I think are going to kind of bump up against each other.

The burden is being placed on other states. People are consuming and getting a benefit out of it, and there’s no compliance requirement…I’m not sure of what all the unintended consequences will be.

Nevada’s a pretty small state, we work together pretty well on inter-agency cooperation. But the regional question in the West is going to take some time.

Do you feel your role and responsibilities as a state regulator are evolving? Why or why not?

For 20 years, I’ve said I have the Chinese curse–I’ve been living in interesting times. Things seem to be getting more and more that way.

What are some of the biggest energy issues facing your state? 

We have been over the last few years building generation like crazy inside our state—new natural gas generation. So our rates in Nevada are actually the only state (in the West) that has a higher per kilowatt-hour rate than California. The difference between us and California though is that much of California has a much more temperate climate than us in Los Vegas. When it’s 115 degrees in July, people aren’t all of a sudden going to decide I’ve got to conserve energy and turn off their air conditioning…Rates are always an issue…And people look at their bill, they don’t look at the kilowatt-hour rate. When you’re putting in new compliance on top of that, that’s going to increase rates and I think eventually you get pushback from consumers.

This interview was conducted at the NARUC summer meetings in July 2014. To see Q&As with commissioners from other states, visit our interactive map. For a broader story about how state regulators from around the country are reacting to the EPA’s carbon emissions proposal, click here.

If you’re a commissioner and didn’t get to talk to Morning Consult at the conference, feel free to contact Emily Holden. We’d love to hear from other state officials and stakeholders too.

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