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Nevada Division of Forestry  

The historic Ward charcoal ovens still stand near Ely in this 2014 photo.

Elko’s new mayor, two councilmen take oath

ELKO – Elko has a new mayor to follow in the footsteps of Chris Johnson, who held the post for eight years. Reece Keener, sworn in as new mayor at a ceremony Jan. 2 at Elko City Hall, said he sees the Elko swimming pool as the top issue going forward.

Two new councilmen also took the oath, Chip Stone and Bill Hance. They replace Keener and John Patrick Rice, who is off the council after 11.5 years. Stone is new to city government, but Hance served on the Enhanced 911 Board and was on the Elko TV District Board for 20 years, ending in 2012.

“It was really a positive event,” Keener said. “I was really pleased to have former Mayor Chris Johnson there and former Mayor Mike Franzoia.” Former councilmen, including Lee Hoffman, Glen Guttry and Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, also were there in the packed chambers.

Swimming pool

City staff closed the Elko Municipal Pool in late November because of damage to the northern wall, and hired Lostra Engineering to determine the extent of the problem and plan repairs.

Keener said the city is looking at an estimated $380,000 for repairs and “will be moving forward as quickly as we can to get it out to bid. We’ll lose the entire winter.”

The new mayor also told the Elko Daily Free Press in an interview Jan. 2 that Barrick Gold Corp. has stepped up with a “very generous” donation of $83,500 to apply to the pool repairs.

Another focus for Keener is the expansion of broadband and internet service in Elko, and “we do have some providers interested in Elko,” he said.

The new sports complex near the Humboldt River is another project for the city that has Keener’s attention.

“It’s ahead of schedule and will be a very exciting amenity for Elko. It will give us the critical mass of fields to host larger tournaments,” he said.

Keener has an eye on downtown development to make the downtown more attractive to new businesses and to shoppers, and he said traffic management is concern as the city “has a rush hour now.” One idea would be to finally extend a connector from the Errecart Bridge to Mountain City Highway, he said. That plan was talked about 20 years ago.

Flights to Reno?

The mayor said he also wants to see better utilization of the Elko Regional Airport site, including acquiring 80 acres for a business park, under an expected grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

A bill that would revive the idea of a subsidy for flights from Elko to Reno, legislation promoted by Elko that didn’t make it through the last legislative session, is coming back for the 2019 Nevada Legislature, Keener said.

He understands the Reno Airport Authority and possibly McCarran Airport in Las Vegas will be the main sponsors for the bill this time, which will mean Elko can save on lobbying dollars. Keener said the city spent $25,000 to $30,000 pushing the subsidy in the 2017 session.

“It’s wonderful they’re doing this for us,” Keener said.

He also said he hopes to see more community involvement in city council meetings and will encourage involvement on city committees and service organizations “to create a greater sense of community here.”

Keener, who owns PNCC and Alliance Document Technologies, served on the Elko Planning Commission before his appointment to the council in 2013. He was elected to the council in 2014. As mayor, he will make $14,460 a year, according to an earlier report in the Elko Daily Free Press.

Chip Stone

Stone is looking at the Elko City Council position as a “new page in my life. I’m extremely excited this day is here,” he said. “I want to help Elko become more popular to attract new businesses and to make it easier for businesses to come to Elko to open new businesses.”

He said he knows he will represent the council on the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority Board and be the liaison to the Parks and Recreation Department and is “very much looking forward” to helping those boards. “The swimming pool is huge on my list.”

Stone owns Stonecraft Jewelers, Stone Rock Sound and Lighting, Diamond Chippers ice cream store and has a band called High Jacked.

Bill Hance

Hance, who owns Ruby Mountain Lock & Safe, said the morning of Jan. 2 he was “definitely looking forward to being sworn in today and serving on the council.”

He said he will be “one of five voices on the council so he can’t wave a magic wand,” but he would like to “make things more transparent, such as business licenses.”

Hance said people have told him they have problems going through the process to obtain a license for a small business and give up. He said he wants to find a way to “make the process a little less onerous.”

He started his business in 2016 following retirement from the State of Nevada after 20 years in the communications field, mainly with the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Johnson and Rice

Johnson served two terms as a councilman before his two terms as mayor, and he told the council at his last meeting on Dec. 18 he would be available, if needed for advice.

“I appreciate the experience and working with everyone,” Johnson said at that meeting, thanking the city staff for all their work, especially their efforts on the city budget that eased the burden on the mayor and council.

“Your leadership has been fantastic,” Elko Police Chief Ben Reed told Johnson at the Dec. 18 meeting.

The outgoing mayor ran in 2018 for the Nevada Assembly seat but lost to incumbent Ellison in the primary. Johnson owns Charles H. Chester Plumbing.

Johnson was termed out, but Rice could have run again since he didn’t have quite 12 years on the council, but he decided not to seek re-election. Rice told the council members and Johnson they had “been a really good team.”

Although his views sometimes differed from the others on the council and the mayor, the departing mayor pro-tempore said he was representing a part of the community that wasn’t otherwise represented. Rice also thanked the city staff.

Elko City Manager Curtis Calder told the council at the Dec. 18 meeting that “without a doubt, this council has been the best council to work with,” and he commended the council for “working together to get things done.”

City Attorney David Stanton said he appreciated all the work Johnson and council had done, and he said Johnson and Rice “leave big shoes to fill.”

No deal to end shutdown; Trump says 'could be a long time'

WASHINGTON — No one budged at President Donald Trump’s closed-door meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, so the partial government shutdown persisted through Day 12 over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. They’ll all try again Friday.

In public, Trump renewed his dire warnings of rapists and others at the border. But when pressed in private by Democrats asking why he wouldn’t end the shutdown, he responded at one point, “I would look foolish if I did that.” A White House official, one of two people who described that exchange only on condition of anonymity, said the president had been trying to explain that it would be foolish not to pay for border security.

In one big shift, the new Congress will convene today with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they’d quickly pass legislation to re-open the government — without funds for the border wall.

“Nothing for the wall,” Pelosi said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show set to air today. “We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?”

But the White House has rejected the Democratic package, and Republicans who control the Senate are hesitant to take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “total nonstarter.” Trump said ahead of his White House session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last “as long as it takes” to get the funding he wants.

“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” Trump said during lengthy public comments at a Cabinet meeting, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown dragged through a second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.

Democrats said they asked Trump directly during Wednesday’s private meeting why he wouldn’t consider their package of bills. One measure would open most of the shuttered government departments at funding levels already agreed to by all sides. The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security, through Feb. 8, allowing talks to continue over border security.

“I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. “He could not give a good answer.”

Trump’s response about looking foolish was confirmed by a White House official and another person familiar with the exchange, neither of whom was authorized to describe the exchange by name. Trump campaigned saying Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refused.

At another point Wednesday, Trump told Pelosi that, as a “good Catholic” she should support the wall because Vatican City has a wall, according to a congressional aide. Trump has mentioned the Vatican’s centuries-old fortifications before, including at the earlier Cabinet meeting. But Democrats said they don’t want medieval barriers, and Pelosi has called Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border immoral.

“I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats,” Trump tweeted after the meeting. “Let’s get it done!”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that there’s no need to prolong the shutdown and that he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that Democrats interrupted Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she was trying to describe a dreadful situation at the border.

Nielsen, participating in the meeting by teleconference, had data about unaccompanied minors crossing the border and a spike in illegal crossings, and she tried to make the case to the group that current funding levels won’t suffice, according to the White House.

“We were hopeful that we could get more of a negotiation,” said McCarthy.

He said the leaders plan to return to the White House Friday to continue negotiations. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox that Pelosi will be “more able to negotiate” once she is elected speaker, as expected today.

The two sides traded offers, but their talks broke down ahead of the holidays. On Wednesday, Trump also rejected his own administration’s offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer, who left saying they remained far apart. On Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.

The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing essential spending bills for several government departments.

Do businesses that leave NV Energy have to meet renewable standards?

It’s looking increasingly likely that Nevada lawmakers will push to increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for the first time in a decade when the 120-day legislative session starts in February.

But one potential obstacle is standing in the way — how to deal with the growing number of businesses that no longer purchase electricity from NV Energy, the state’s primary utility.

An increasing number of companies have filed what’s known as a 704B application — named for the section in state law — that allows large power users to leave NV Energy as a customer and purchase power from another provider. At least eight companies — the most recent being the South Point Hotel and Casino — have filed to leave the incumbent utility this year, the most in a single year since the law was adopted in 2001.

Under state law, companies that depart the utility still have to meet the RPS standard — but only the one in place at the time of their departure.

That means businesses that left NV Energy as a customer last decade, such as Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining, only have to meet the 15 percent RPS that was in place when they applied to leave. It also means that unless legislators make an RPS increase retroactive, large corporations such as MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment that filed to leave the utility in the last several years also won’t have to meet higher standards.

Companies that have left NV Energy’s service make up a small but significant portion of energy consumption in Nevada — according to the state Office of Energy’s most recent report, retail power providers made up about 7.5 percent of consumed electricity in 2016. But the percentage is likely higher now, given the larger number of customers who have left the utility.

Efforts are afoot to force companies that have left the utility to meet any higher renewable standards adopted by the Legislature. Democratic state Sen. Chris Brooks, who sponsored the vetoed 2017 bill raising the RPS to 40 percent by 2030, said provisions capturing non-utility customers would likely be a part of the conversation in 2019 — and part of his goal to reduce carbon emissions.

“While they might not make up as significant of a portion of load today, I believe that the future of electrical utility delivery in the state of Nevada is going to look a lot different moving forward,” Brooks said in an interview. “I think laying the groundwork so that all loads are participating in a carbon reduction plan or RPS that recognizes that, it’s prudent policy. If they’re an electrical load in the state of Nevada, they have an impact on carbon output.”

Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) basics

It’s easy to conflate the idea of a renewable portfolio standard with an automatic increase in the amount of renewable fuel sources used by a power company, but the reality is a bit more complicated.

In essence, an RPS creates a credit-based system where utilities and other power suppliers are required to hit minimum credit benchmarks of renewable production, typically as a percentage of their total power sold in a year. One portfolio energy credit, or PEC, is equal to one kilowatt-hour of generated electricity (equivalent to a 100-watt television running for 10 hours).

Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission has set up a credit “marketplace” that allows providers to buy and sell credits. The commission is also charged with confirming that energy providers meet the standard every year, and assessing a penalty if the target is missed.

A higher RPS doesn’t necessarily mandate more renewable energy generation, nor match up neatly with the actual mix of renewable and non-renewable in use by a state.

Under state law, energy efficiency measures fully or partially subsidized by the utility can be used to meet the requirement, and electricity created through home solar systems is given a 2.4 times multiplier credit if they were installed prior to 2015. Unused credits can also be banked for use in a future year.

Those aspects of the credit system often mean there is a disparity between fuel mix and RPS compliance. NV Energy reported 23.8 percent clean energy credit compliance in 2017 — above the mandated 20 percent RPS for that year — but the company’s actual fuel mix was closer to 18 percent renewable sources and 76 percent natural gas.

Nevada lawmakers approved an initial RPS in 1997, and in 2009 approved a law gradually raising the standard to 25 percent by 2025. Thirteen jurisdictions have a higher RPS target than Nevada, including Hawaii (100 percent by 2045), California (100 percent by 2045) and Vermont (75 percent by 2032). New Jersey, New York and Oregon have set 50 percent RPS targets by 2030, while Maryland has a 40 percent target by 2030, Colorado has a 30 percent target by 2020 and Connecticut has a 27 percent target by 2020.

Exits and RPS

In 2009, Nevada lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that not only raised the renewable standard to 25 percent by 2025, but also cleared up a pending question: whether businesses that had left NV Energy as a customer still had to meet the RPS minimum.

The law, AB387, specified that if an electric customer filed to leave the utility as a customer, it would still need to acquire renewable portfolio credits needed to meet the RPS effective on the date of the PUC’s order granting the exit.

Prior to that year, the handful of mining customers that had filed to leave the utility were facing some uncertainty over what would happen if the renewable standard was raised. In 2010, the PUC issued an advisory order finding that Barrick Goldstrike Mines, which left NV Energy in 2005, would be required to meet the portfolio standard in place at the time of its departure, which topped out at 15 percent by 2013.

Brooks said that the 2009 clarification on departed customers and RPS compliance was designed to give businesses some level of certainty and shield them from a sudden, unexpected ramp-up in renewable minimums. But he said times and technology have changed significantly, and that those companies shouldn’t be allowed to stay at a lower level of renewable compliance.

“I understand that motivation,” he said. “But as far as I’m concerned at the end of the day, we’re all part of Nevada and we need to all participate in what’s best for all of Nevada.”

In his veto message of the 2017 bill, Gov. Brian Sandoval said part of his opposition stemmed from the fact that companies who left NV Energy had already paid a substantial “impact fee” for the right to do so, and that the bill would “dramatically change the terms associated with their decision to exit” and would impose “additional costs on top the millions of dollars they have already paid to exit the Nevada power grid.”

Both Brooks and Senate Democratic Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson have said they want to raise the RPS much higher; Atkinson has said he’ll back moving to a 100 percent renewable standard over time. Governor-elect Steve Sisolak, also a Democrat, said on the campaign trail that he supported the ballot question raising the standard to 50 percent by 2030, and NV Energy also has said it would support raising the standard to 50 percent by 2030.

Brooks said that several of the exited companies opposed being required to meet a higher RPS during the fight over the 2017 bill, but that he was confident similar language would make it through in 2019.

Another factor at play is Question 6, the proposed constitutional amendment to raise the state’s RPS to 50 percent by 2030. Approved with around 59 percent of the vote, the actual language of the ballot question states that it would apply to every “provider of electric utility service that is engaged in the business of selling electricity to retail customers for consumption in this State” — including those serving customers that have left NV Energy. As the language would be added to the constitution, its provisions would supercede those approved by the Legislature or any PUC orders on RPS compliance.