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May 24, 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - It's up to state regulators to determine whether NV Energy, the state's largest utility, should be allowed to cut the size of its energy conservation investments in half. The utility's energy-saving programs serve 2.4 million customers and are expected to save them $450 million over the next 20 years, according to Rick Van Diepen, president of the Nevada Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Given the state's record high unemployment and an increasing number of people unable to afford their power bills, Van Diepen says this is the wrong time to cut back on energy-saving programs.

"Nevada is in a depression as far as the construction industry is concerned; we're at over 30 percent unemployment, so that's when we need this most. With the summer months coming up, it's absolutely the worst time to be cutting back on these energy-efficiency programs."

During PUC hearings last week, NV Energy argued it should be allowed to reduce its conservation-related investments by $40 million, because of decreased demand and lower population growth. Van Diepen calls that view shortsighted, warning it could leave Nevadans facing brown-outs when the economy rebounds.

Richard Cherchio, North Las Vegas councilman (Ward 4), says the retirees who make up a large part of his district cannot afford to lose out on the projected savings that were in NV Energy's original plan.

"It's really going to hurt our fixed-income seniors. They're on medications; they need to be an environment that is cool for them, and reasonable."

Van Diepen's company, PGAL, recently completed work on two energy-efficient Habitat for Humanity homes in Henderson. Even in a downturn, he says, saving energy is a smart investment.

"If we don't get serious about these energy-efficiency retrofits, we're going to have this giant existing stock of inefficient homes. Once we start booming again, we're going to be right back in the same boat we were in when we had these brown-outs."

The PUC is expected to rule on the NV Energy proposal in July.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV