CARSON CITY — The Legislature played host to a former director of the CIA yesterday, who came to voice support for a renewable energy bill.
James Woolsey, director of the CIA between 1993 and 1995, said the passage of the bill is a matter of national security.
Senate Bill 184 would establish a “feed-in tariff” program in Nevada, which would allow small-scale solar, wind, geothermal and other energy producers to “feed in” their energy to the grid.
Public utility companies would set a cap on the energy it collects and would pay producers of energy at a standard rate.
Woolsey said the program would likely mean a half percent increase in the utility bills for the average household’s energy bill.
But Woolsey said the cost is worth it.
“Whether you’re worried about terrorists or hackers … if you lose power because of these accidents, because of terrorist attackers on transformers, because of hacker attacks, you are just out of business,” he said.
The feed-in tariff program would allow Nevada to maintain power for critical functions even if an attack or natural disaster disrupted the main power supply.
Hundreds or thousands of small-scale producers would together provide a sizable chunk of Nevada’s energy. Woolsey said these are small facilities “which would be a spare acre on a farmer’s property and maybe the roofs on his barn, the top of a parking garage in Las Vegas or Reno, the top of a church, the top of a school.”
The concept is similar to diversifying an investment portfolio. A down market in one sector will not make you a beggar if you have investments in other sectors.
“It’s the difference between a very difficult situation on one hand versus a collapse of civilization on the other,” Woolsey said. “So there’s a big premium, I think, to essentially being able to have distributed generation for reasons of security.”
Woolsey does, however, have personal reasons to push for investment in renewable energy. He is a partner in venture capital firms that invest in clean-energy technology.
NV Energy has testified against the bill during past Senate hearings.
The company argued that a feed-in tariff program would create “significant consumer cost increases,” and suggested that their current approach to using renewable energy works and saves money for consumers.
“We support strategies that ensure that renewables are developed and integrated into the utility grid in a manner that does not expose our customers to diminished reliability,” wrote Judy Stokey for NV Energy.
Woolsey, however, contended that the program would be sound. In the bill, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada would review and revise the program periodically.
Other critics of renewable energy policies in general have said that such legislation means government picks a winning technology rather than letting market forces sift through various modes of energy production for a lasting winner.
“It depends on whether you believe that the government should consider national security in putting together some of the rules and regulations for energy,” Woolsey said. “The government was involved in stringing telegraph lines, the government was invovled in the Pony Express, the government was involved in the railroads going West … there is virtually no aspect of energy production that has not been substantially guided by the federal government.”
Woolsey spent yesterday lobbying for the bill, met with Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, himself a proponent of renewable energy business development, and met with the media.
He will appear today on local journalist Anjeanette Damon’s television program, To The Point, at 6:30 p.m.
Senate Bill 184 is being considered in the Senate and must pass by Tuesday, the deadline for passing bills out of their house of origin.