Power Play: How Southwest Gas beat back efforts by environmentalists to start moving Nevada away from natural gas

In early 2021, with the legislative session only a few weeks away, Scott Leedom, the director of public affairs for Southwest Gas, reached out to the city of Mesquite with two requests for Mayor Al Litman. 

One was to speak at a virtual employee event extolling the benefits of natural gas, according to emails obtained by the Climate Investigations Center, a fossil fuel watchdog group. The second request was to review a draft letter that a pro-gas coalition of business and labor groups, organized by the company, was planning to send to Gov. Steve Sisolak. 

Mesquite was no stranger to Nevada’s largest natural gas utility — in 2018, the state’s Public Utilities Commission authorized the company to expand service to the rural community, leading to the installation of 28 miles of natural gas pipeline serving hundreds of residential homes and businesses. Litman called it a “game-changer for Mesquite” at the time, and in an interview, he said natural gas was important for economic development. Companies wanted natural gas. 

“We worked closely with them,” he said of the utility. “They’ve been a great partner to work with. To see it go the opposite direction before it really got underfoot, it’d be a disaster in our city.”

A final version of that letter, obtained through a public records request filed by The Nevada Independent, was finally sent to the Democratic governor on Feb. 21. It was signed by Litman, the mayor of Elko, six chambers of commerce, 17 trade groups and two unions (though one of the unions, IBEW Local 1245, said it was mistakenly included as a signatory).

Over six pages, the letter advocated for continued use of the fossil fuel, and raised concerns about Sisolak’s recently adopted climate strategy, which emphasized the need to plan for a transition away from natural gas to meet the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The letter, and the groundwork that went into crafting it, reflect the gas utility’s full-court press attempt to push back against legislation — and broader policy efforts by the Sisolak administration — aimed at transitioning from natural gas to electric appliances in buildings. 

Their efforts, so far, have worked.

In late March, Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) introduced legislation (AB380), modeled after Sisolak’s climate strategy, requiring gas utilities to go through a more rigorous planning process before expanding their infrastructure. But the bill, backed by environmental groups, met a groundswell of opposition and skepticism from lawmakers in both parties. It failed to advance past a legislative committee deadline and died weeks after it was introduced.

The utility didn’t get everything it wanted. A bill proposed by Southwest Gas and carried by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro also died by that first committee deadline on April 11. The legislation (SB296) would have allowed the gas utility to replace thousands of miles of pipelines, a program that environmentalists said would cost billions and undermine the state’s efforts to address climate change.

Although Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a 2050 net-zero emissions goal two years ago, the two pieces of legislation — and the debates around them — show that tensions remain in the party (which controls both the legislative and executive branches) over how to best move forward on facilitating a transition toward decarbonization.

Those tensions were exploited by Southwest Gas, which entered the 2021 Legislature knowing it was in for a fight. Beyond solidifying rural support in Mesquite and Spring Creek, a community outside Elko, Southwest Gas upped campaign contributions, built an influential coalition with affiliated interest groups and doubled its lobbying team.

Natural gas interests also made public shows of charity to minority legislative caucuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and helped orchestrate a well-coordinated media campaign defining AB380 as banning “natural gas appliances in homes and business” — a characterization that the bill’s drafters dispute.

Similar battles are playing out in statehouses across the country. As local governments have pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions, utilities like Southwest Gas have lobbied state lawmakers to preempt those efforts. Last year, Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey signed legislation, backed by Southwest Gas, prohibiting local governments from banning gas in new buildings.

Sisolak’s office did not take a position on the legislative efforts, when asked by The Nevada Independent, and officials from his administration testified in neutral on the bill. But on Friday evening, Sisolak issued a press release with statements from Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) affirming the state’s commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels. 

“I appreciate the Nevada Legislature’s effort to kickstart the discussion on the issue and I believe further review by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada would be appropriate to continue it,” Sisolak said. “This transition away from carbon is already starting, and it is critical that we take a deeper look and determine how we can protect hardworking families and businesses as it continues.”

For clean energy advocates, the failure to create a planning framework for transitioning away from natural gas marks a missed opportunity for the state to make good on its goals to lower emissions. But advocates and the utility agree on one thing: The issue is not going away. 

“We're going to have to make these changes if we want to meet our goals that the state has already put out there,” Cohen said in an interview after the bill died. “If we're going to get to clean power and zero greenhouse gas emissions, we're going to have to do something.”

Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) at the Nevada Legislature on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Legislation from the state’s climate plan 

The legislation that would be introduced as AB380 made its public debut with an op-ed in The Nevada Independent on Feb. 9. Cohen, a soft-spoken Henderson Democrat in her fourth term in the Assembly, published the opinion piece arguing that an orderly transition away from natural gas would save ratepayers money and protect public health. 

It outlined broad plans for what would eventually become AB380 — requiring the natural gas utility file plans every three years with the state’s Public Utilities Commission to “prove that their spending plans will keep the gas system affordable and safe in a future where we use more electricity and less gas for our heating and cooking needs.”

Lauded at the time by fellow legislative and other high-ranking Democrats, the proposal was largely taken from the Sisolak administration’s climate strategy, a high-level document outlining pathways to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The legislation received backing from major environmental groups, including the Nevada Conservation League and Natural Resources Defense Council.

In one of its 17 core policies, the climate report calls for phasing out natural gas hookups in homes and businesses over the next three decades. To do so, the report calls on policymakers to plan for transition by scrutinizing new gas infrastructure, to consider requiring all-electric in new buildings and to give customers more choice to switch from gas to electric appliances.

“While Nevada’s electricity sector transitions from fossil fuels to zero-emissions renewables, the state must also transition from fossil-fuel combustion in homes and commercial buildings in the form of burning gas for cooking, hot water, and space heating,” the report states.

Such a shift would mark a departure from the state’s relationship with Southwest Gas, the investor-owned utility which has served Las Vegas and Southern Nevada since 1954. The state’s laws, environmental advocates argue, currently favor the use of natural gas appliances.

Although only a handful of municipalities (led by Berkeley, California) have taken the full step of instituting a ban on natural gas hookups and requiring electrification in new construction, many others are considering ways to plan for a future with less natural gas.

In the weeks after AB380 was introduced, environmental advocates said that acting now was necessary to avoid continued build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure, keeping the state reliant on natural gas and ratepayers on the hook for the bill. 

“Responsible planning is making sure our gas utilities are spending ratepayer money wisely rather than spending customer money on construction projects that raise rates without being good ideas for the future,” said Dylan Sullivan, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Right now, even the most well-intentioned gas utility has a financial incentive to continue with old practices because they get money...by putting pipes in the ground," he added.

Construction on a Southwest Gas pipeline at a new home development in Las Vegas on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The gas utility’s legislative push

At the same time environmental advocates were working on writing AB380, Southwest Gas was circulating its own legislative proposal to create a statutory pipeline replacement program.

The utility’s proposal, similar to legislation that it tried to pass in 2019, would have allowed Southwest Gas to replace about 6,000 miles of vintage steel and plastic pipe, Leedom said in an interview earlier this month.

The company and a federal regulator, Leedom said, had identified the pipe materials as facing safety issues in high heat and acidic soils. Leedom said a program, in statute, was necessary to “proactively remove” older pipelines and replace them with newer infrastructure. 

To introduce its legislative proposal, Southwest Gas found one of the most powerful sponsors in the legislative building: the Senate majority leader. One day before Cohen introduced AB380, Cannizzaro introduced SB296, which included the utility’s pipeline replacement program. 

In the 2020 election cycle, Southwest Gas contributed $7,000 directly to Cannizzaro and $22,500 to her leadership PAC, while not donating to her Republican opponent, April Becker. 

“There's an important conversation about long-term planning for gas resources happening in the Assembly, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out," Cannizzaro said in a statement  after the bill was introduced. "We want to be sure that any action we take provides Nevadans with safe, reliable infrastructure and aligns (with) state climate goals."

For environmental advocates, the utility’s pipeline replacement proposal underscored the need to more closely watch how Southwest Gas spent ratepayer money on infrastructure. Where the utility saw a program to enhance safety, environmental groups saw a bill that allowed a utility to double-down on fossil fuel infrastructure with little oversight. 

They said the utility should have the ability to fix leaky and unsafe pipes, but that it should be done on a case-by-case basis, considering the cost to customers. In December, Arizona’s elected utilities commission rejected a similar Southwest Gas proposal over concerns related to cost. 

“It's hard to imagine that bill being a top priority in a legislative session that is focused on the economic hardship of the past year,” Sullivan said in March. “This isn't the right time for a $3.7 billion giveaway to Southwest Gas because customers can't afford to pick up the bill."

Leedom rejected arguments that the investment in new infrastructure was unnecessary. 

“It’s not to harden the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s to address the safety concern, and it’s to enhance the safety and reliability to the benefit of our entire customer base.”

Both bills were the culmination of lobbying — the gas utility on one side and environmental groups on the other — that had been going on for months, and their fate foreshadows the tensions the state faces in implementing some elements of its climate strategy. 

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro speaks with the media inside the Legislature on Monday, March 15, 2021 in Carson City, Nev. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Framing a planning process as a ban 

As state officials have looked at ways to meet Nevada’s 2050 climate goal, Southwest Gas has taken an active approach in working to influence the state’s policy efforts.

Before the Sisolak administration released the climate report in December, an inter-agency team working to draft the strategy held a listening session on “green buildings.” When the topic of natural gas came up, it became clear that the utility had no intention of sitting on the sidelines.

Leedom cast policies that move away from gas in buildings as “premature and problematic.” Two of the utility’s staunch defenders, AARP Nevada and the Latin Chamber of Commerce, also spoke out against such proposals, citing the outsized impact it could have on jobs, low-income ratepayers and seniors on fixed incomes. 

The utility has argued that its infrastructure could be part of the solution, touting its efforts to move toward low-carbon fuels, including “renewable natural gas,” and other alternatives that could offset its carbon footprint. Southwest Gas takes issue with the climate strategy — and AB380’s — approach, which is to move toward electrifying appliances in homes and businesses. 

He said the company has hired a third-party to “outline what that pathway to netzero looks like for us.”

To push back, Southwest Gas borrowed a playbook that utilities have used in other states: building a coalition of business interests casting the fossil fuel as affordable and “clean,” despite the fact that a state fact-sheet notes that gas appliances can pollute indoor air quality.

Where AB380 looked to institute a planning framework, the utility reframed it as a ban.

Danny Thompson — the former head of the Nevada AFL-CIO and a lobbyist hired by Southwest Gas this session — published an op-ed in The Nevada Independent in mid-February, writing that AB380 would kill jobs, raise costs and put more strain on the electric grid.

A few days later, Latin Chamber of Commerce President Peter Guzman (whose organization lists Southwest Gas as a major sponsor) published an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun indirectly calling Cohen’s proposal a risky action that “will make our economy and the burden to businesses and families even worse.”

“Forcing abuelo and abuela to make a choice between medicine and groceries or heating their home affordably in the winter is unacceptable,” he wrote.

Behind the scenes, Southwest Gas was engaged in a lobbying campaign aimed at driving opinion against Cohen’s bill and solidifying its business footing in the state.

Lobbyist registration records show the utility went from three registered lobbyists in 2017 and five in 2019 to 10 in the 2021 session. Four of those are with the firm of Greenberg Traurig, including former state Senate Democratic Caucus leader Alisa Nave-Worth. Two are longtime labor lobbyists — Thompson and Gail Tuzzolo.

Cohen, the bill’s sponsor, said the “sizable push in lobbying” became more noticeable as the session went on, even while she and advocates for the bill were actively working with the opposition to try to address any concerns with the concepts in the bill.

Even before the legislative session, Southwest Gas and other allies in the natural gas and petroleum industry were working to make inroads with lawmakers.

Last year, lobbyists representing the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) — a nonprofit trade association representing the petroleum industry in six western states — donated thousands of dollars worth of gift cards to both the Nevada Black Legislative Caucus and Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus to be distributed for help with COVID-19 relief efforts undertaken by lawmakers.

Southwest Gas, along with the WSPA, were invited to give presentations to both caucuses early in the legislative session. 

Heads of both of those caucuses — Assembly members Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and Daniele Monroe Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) — strenuously denied that the assistance had any effect on the eventual fate of AB380 or other natural gas legislation. 

Donations made by the trade group benefited a grocery delivery service for COVID-19 positive individuals arranged by the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, and those made to the Black caucus helped purchase personal protective equipment and food at a senior living facility.

“Western States Petroleum helped us, local grocery stores helped us, churches helped us, nonprofits helped us,” Monroe Moreno said. “So if they want to draw a line, there’s going to be a whole bunch of lines drawn. There was a lot of need that was going on, and they were one of the companies that stepped up.”

In March, Southwest Gas and allies set up an advocacy Facebook page called the Coalition for Cleaner Affordable Energy calling for lawmakers and the public to oppose AB380. Though the group hasn’t run any ads, the page includes video testimonials from homebuilders, business groups (including the Latin Chamber) and union representatives (including Thompson).

Cohen said that the utility’s messaging was inaccurate, but nonetheless struck a chord with members of the public, lawmakers and interest groups concerned about potentially losing natural gas access or stoves in their own homes.

“For all those people who call and say ‘What's going on?’ and I can respond to it, I can't respond to everyone who's been to a website and gets incorrect information, and have the conversation to put them at ease,” she said. “So it definitely is difficult to respond to that when there is fear that is fueled by incorrect information.”

A Southwest Gas technician makes a service call in Las Vegas on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

One hearing, many revisions

The final version of what was to become AB380 underwent several changes before it was ever heard in a legislative committee on April 6. 

An initial version of the bill obtained by The Nevada Independent had three main components. It repealed a section of state law authorizing the expansion of natural gas infrastructure if it related to economic development, required the utility to submit an infrastructure plan to regulators that weighed decarbonization and set a state policy to gradually reduce greenhouse gas emissions from “combustible fuels” to 95 percent of 2016 levels by 2050.

After feedback from Southwest Gas and other groups, a conceptual, final amendment removed all references to the gradual emission reduction targets and many of the specific requirements for plans required to be filed with the PUC. Still, the legislation required the utility to undergo a comprehensive planning process meant to prepare for a future where more appliances got their energy from the electrical grid, not gas pipelines. 

The final version of the legislation also sought to address equity concerns. It would have required regulators to investigate “strategies to limit the impact of a transition from the use of gas in buildings on low income households and historically underserved communities, including, without limitation, such persons who rent or lease their residence.”  

“We did a lot of work with the stakeholders, the gas utility, labor, and there were lots of meetings,” Cohen said. “We substantially amended the bill, taking their concerns in mind, things that we didn't necessarily think said or would do what they said they were concerned with, but we still took it out and made modifications. They still were against it.”

Even as amended, Leedom said “the bill was not a neutral natural gas study or planning bill.” He argued that the legislation pre-supposed that electrification was the best approach forward. 

During a more than two-hour hearing before the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month, lawmakers raised concerns about the amended version of AB380, echoing many of the arguments made by the natural gas utility and the coalition opposing the bill. 

The coalition had repeatedly argued that the effects of AB380 would disproportionately affect communities of colors, seniors and low-income households.

At the hearing, Southwest Gas CEO John Hester said the utility is “fully supportive of taking efforts in energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we are also very concerned about the needs of our customers here in Nevada.”

Environmentalists and AB380 supporters argue that the pro-gas messaging ignores the health impacts of natural gas, the climate strategy and distorts the bill’s language, which specifically sought to ensure that there was an equitable transition for low-income households.

“It is absurd that they are weaponizing equity amidst a climate crisis,” Elspeth DiMarzio, an organizer with the Sierra Club, said in an interview last week. “Responsible energy planning was about making sure there was a plan to protect low-income communities down the road.”

Cinthia Moore, an organizer for pro-clean energy group EcoMadres, said the rhetoric at the hearing largely ignored the public health consequences of burning natural gas, noting that Latinos are more likely to suffer asthma attacks than white counterparts.

She said she understood the concerns legislators expressed, “but it’s important to have conversations with our communities about how we are moving away from the usage of natural gas and more toward electric — and it’s going to require a lot of work.” 

“I don’t see it as a ban,” she said of AB380.

Environmental groups also stress the cost of inaction. If there is no planning process in place, the natural gas utility could be permitted to continue expanding, leaving ratepayers on the hook for the costs of more fossil fuel infrastructure, even as the economy moves toward decarbonization. 

This is an argument that won buy-in from the state’ Consumer Advocate, Ernest Figueroa, who works within the attorney general’s office and represents ratepayers before utility regulators. 

“If the policy of the state, as outlined in the governor’s climate initiative, is to eventually transition away from the use of natural gas by 2050, then it is imperative, for economic reasons, that natural gas resource planning be implemented so that natural gas utility customers are not left with billions of dollars in stranded assets when that time comes,” he said during the hearing.

The bill was heard just four days before the deadline for first committee passage, and was at one point scheduled for a committee vote, but it was later removed from the agenda. 

In an interview, Monroe Moreno said she “didn’t have the votes to make it out of committee.”

SB296, backed by the gas utility, experienced a similar fate. Cannizzaro’s bill did not even get a committee hearing, a rare occurrence for legislation proposed by leadership.

“Just like so many things in this building, sometimes you can't exactly get to the right policy place,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “There were just a lot of concerns that we couldn't quite...I don't know. So that one didn't make it.”

Cannizzaro was more direct in the press release Sisolak released on Friday evening.

“We are committed to taking action that supports the state’s Climate Strategy and puts us on track to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals,” she said. “While we simply didn’t have the time for some of these tough, complex discussions this Legislative Session, it’s critical that we look at what the future will bring and prepare ourselves so that no Nevadan is left behind."

Frierson, as the Democratic leader of the Assembly, echoed the sentiment.

“As we know, the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to our legislative process, making it a difficult environment for robust discussion and debate,” Frierson said in a statement released through Sisolak’s office. “And while some bills related to acting on climate change did not move forward this session, we no less remain committed to addressing the climate crisis and will continue to push Nevada to be a leader in the clean energy economy.

A construction crew works on a Southwest Gas pipeline at a new home development in Las Vegas on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Setting the stage

Litman, the mayor of Mesquite, said he was glad to see AB380 die in committee.

He believes that “natural gas is still the future for our community” and argued that cars are far more polluting. But he also said he recognizes that the issue is not going away anytime soon.

The state, he argued, is simply not ready for the transition contemplated in AB380.

“But it will be back,” he said. “I guarantee you that.”

Leedom said he expected the legislation to come back, too. 

“This isn’t the last time we’ll see electrification policies in the state,” Leedom said in an interview last week. “But again, we stand ready with the state and with other stakeholders to outline what an alternative path to a decarbonized future looks like.”

The Sisolak administration did not take a formal position on AB380, and a spokesperson for the governor said his office did not send a formal response to the pro-gas coalition letter. It was not until Friday evening that Sisolak released a public statement on the legislation.

Still, the administration has continued to stress the long-term need to transition buildings from natural gas. At the hearing for AB380, two state officials noted that AB380 was consistent with the climate strategy and appeared to rebut some of the gas utility’s claims.

The Nevada Climate Initiative also put out a fact-sheet in March, emphasizing the fact that methane gas contributes to global climate change and can cause indoor health problems. 

At the hearing, David Bobzien, who directs the Governor’s Office of Energy, said the state is willing to work with the company on alternatives, but he also noted that while there is some potential in low-carbon fuel alternatives like green hydrogen, there are some major limitations.

In past interviews, he has noted the need for a long-term transition toward electric appliances. 

For years, environmental groups have focused on pushing the state’s largest electric utility, NV Energy, to move toward a more renewable portfolio. They are continuing to do so, but they also plan to engage more on natural gas issues, including outside of the Legislature. 

DiMarzio said environmental groups can also do more to educate the public on natural gas. 

“We need to be really clear that natural gas is a fossil fuel,” DiMarzio said. “It is methane. It is bad for the environment. And it is bad for indoor air quality and health. There's a lot of education that needs to be done because natural gas is not natural at all."

Update: This story was updated on April 19, 2021 to include more information. The coalition letter referenced in this story, obtained through a public records request, includes IBEW Local 1245 as a signatory. A representative from IBEW Local 1245 clarified that the union was listed on the coalition letter in error. 

Nevada climate strategy outlines framework to phase out natural gas, electrify transportation

An array of solar panels at the Copper Mountain Solar 3 facility

The goal is clear: To reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. 

The challenge is how to get there. 

A plan released this week by state agencies and delivered to Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday outlined Nevada’s first “climate strategy” for zeroing out carbon emissions within the next three decades, what scientists say is an imperative for governments across the country to prevent the worst effects of a warming world — skyrocketing heat, extreme wildfires, limited water supplies. 

The strategy, a lengthy and comprehensive document, represents a significant turning point for a state government that has, for years, touted its record on encouraging renewable energy but has shied away from tackling climate change in a coordinated way. 

“It is about process,” said Kristen Averyt, who led the report’s drafting and is a former president of the Desert Research Institute. “It is about stitching climate action into the state.”

At its core, the report lays out a pathway for Nevada to achieve a cost-effective transition from natural gas and electrify the transportation sector, which is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Although the strategy does not dictate policy to the Legislature, local governments and state regulators, it analyzes and recommends several policies to pursue.

The strategy, Averyt stressed, is a “living document,” meant to set a foundation for future reports and analysis. And it was also meant to set expectations. Averyt acknowledged that the report is different from efforts that other states have taken. It intentionally leans into the challenges and the nuances, many specific to Nevada, that come with reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050.

“We have to get to zero emissions,” Averyt said. “Nothing is off the table.”

“We just have to be smart about how we do it,” she added.

For the 17 core policies analyzed in the report, the state established a framework that looked at each recommendation using four metrics: a policy’s potential for decreasing emissions, climate justice considerations, economic implications and the legal feasibility of implementing a policy.

Climate activists said the report is a significant step in the state’s efforts on climate action. It is important that there is a strategy, they said. But although the strategy considers climate justice — that marginalized communities are often disproportionately affected by climate impacts and the cost of climate action — activists said more work is needed to adequately center those issues. 

“Everything [the state does] around climate change — or even when we talk about affordable housing and transportation in general — should be looked at from an environmental justice lens,” said Cinthia Moore, a Las Vegas-based organizer with EcoMadres, which represents Latino parents and advocates for clean air. “And that should be the driver of these policies."

The report marks a nearly two-year effort to redirect the state’s focus toward addressing climate change, an effort that began in the 2019 Legislature. During the legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that set the state’s first economy-wide emission reduction goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

State officials estimate that, on its current path, Nevada would fall 4 percent short of the goal to decrease total greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2025, 19 percent short of cutting emissions 45 percent by 2030 and significantly short of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The 2050 goal is in line with pledges made by other governments and corporations. Although the effort to reduce emissions will require investment, the strategy notes that meeting the emission goals could prevent between $172 and $786 million in economic damages associated with carbon pollution by 2030. Meeting the 2050 goal, the report finds, could prevent billions in damages.

In a statement prepared with the report’s release, Sisolak said climate action must play a role in building back a more “climate-friendly and equitable” economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sisolak, who ordered the report as part of his Nevada Climate Initiative, said it “serves as the critical framework necessary to elevate climate action and foster a healthy, vibrant, climate-resilient future for all Nevadans – especially our most disadvantaged community members who live in the areas experiencing the greatest climate-related health and economic impacts.”

Decarbonization of the electric sector

In reducing economy-wide emissions, decarbonizing the electric sector is the first step.

Emissions from generating electricity — burning coal and natural gas for power — accounted for roughly 32 percent of total economy-wide emissions in 2016, according to an analysis released by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection earlier this year.

That 32 percent share means the electric generation is now the second largest greenhouse gas contributor in Nevada — behind the transportation sector with a 35 percent share of emissions. 

But even though power plants contribute a smaller share of emissions than the transportation sector, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy remains a prerequisite. As with most carbon reduction plans across the globe, Nevada’s strategy rests on electrification. The strategy aims to electrify transportation and make buildings more reliant on electric appliances, rather than gas ones.

That framework puts NV Energy front-and-center. It will require the utility to potentially hasten its transition from a majority fossil-fuel supply to a majority-renewable supply. At the same time, the utility has predicted that its demand will likely increase as other sectors require more electricity.  

In recent years, the state has made progress toward reducing power plant emissions, requiring the closure of coal plants in Southern Nevada and adding massive utility-scale solar projects to the grid. And in November, voters passed a ballot measure, amending the Nevada Constitution, to require utilities to have a supply portfolio of 50 percent renewables by 2030. The constitutional amendment adds more weight to a similar requirement that was unanimously passed by the Legislature last year. 

Still, the strategy recognizes that the electric sector needs to move faster. But how that reduction in emissions is achieved is left open-ended. David Bobzien, who directs the Governor’s Office of Energy and helped write the utility-related section of the report, said that was on purpose. 

“Even with our aggressive [renewable portfolio standard], there is water yet uncharted beyond that 50 percent standard,” Bobzien said. “How do we get to 100 percent? It's great that we have the goal there, but we do know that the last 50 percent is going to be complicated.”

On Thursday, NV Energy spokesperson Jennifer Schuricht said in an email that the strategy “provides a framework to examine all sources of carbon emissions and to create solutions that bring meaningful long-term environmental and economic benefits to all Nevadans at affordable prices. We look forward to working with our policymakers as we pursue these opportunities.”

A recent report, commissioned by the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), suggested that the state might need a renewable requirement closer to 80 percent by 2030 to remain on track with its emission goals. But the state’s report did not describe a specific policy, instead leaving open the possibility that policies other than a renewable standard could be used. 

NV Energy, which serves about 90 percent of Nevada’s electricity needs, recently filed a report with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) outlining its net-zero carbon goals. That report stresses the need to diversify its portfolio, build more transmission and manage demand.

The utility’s report suggests that the state might need to move away from a renewable standard in the future and toward other policies aimed more specifically at the grid’s carbon emissions.

In the PUCN filing, the utility said that “in the future, the state's decarbonizing efforts may benefit from a transition away from [renewable portfolio standard] targets in favor of decarbonizing policies to avoid conflict and increase impact across more sectors of the economy.”

NV Energy also warned against policies that entirely eliminate fossil fuel production or policies that limit carbon intensity from existing plants until there were renewable alternatives available.

A transition away from natural gas as the default

Despite transitioning away from coal-fired power plants and adding solar over the past decade, natural gas comprises the majority of NV Energy’s power supply. Simultaneously, natural gas is used in most homes and in commercial buildings for heating and cooking, adding to the state’s carbon footprint. 

A common theme in the report was the need for not only a substantive change but also a shift in thinking around natural gas — a transition away from the default policy of planning to use the fossil fuel well into the future.

The climate strategy specifically calls out a policy that allows utility regulators and NV Energy to use natural gas plants — rather than renewables — as placeholders in planning the utility's long-term supply.

Every three years, NV Energy is required to submit an exhaustive planning documented known as an Integrated Resource Plan. In that plan, natural gas plants that are often used as placeholders in forecasting long-term supply scenarios. The climate strategy suggests that eliminating the policy would improve the ability to plan for an electric grid that more closely reflects the state’s net-zero by 2050 goal.

“[The policy] basically says there are no goals or requirements to phase out fossil fuel reliance," said Cameron Dyer, a clean energy staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates.

“We need to get these natural gas placeholders out of being the vogue,” he added.

The climate strategy also looks at other ways to improve planning and reduce natural gas use, including changing the incentives that guide the utility when it comes to crafting its rates. 

But one of the most significant aspects of the state’s climate strategy is that, for the first time, it points policymakers beyond electricity, calling on them to phase out natural gas in buildings

The climate strategy says that “while Nevada’s electricity sector transitions from fossil fuels to zero-emissions renewables, the state must also transition from fossil-fuel combustion in homes and commercial buildings in the form of burning gas for cooking, hot water, and space heating.”

Bobzien said he did not expect this to happen overnight. 

"It's important to remember the time-scale contemplated by this framework,” he said. “It's a long-term transition to these technologies or newer homes, and it has to be sensitive to costs.” 

Environmental advocates — and the climate strategy itself — said a preliminary goal would be to ensure that consumers could choose between electric and natural gas.

The report said “a potential first step in a phased transition from gas would be to allow consumers the choice between gas and electric on existing buildings but require all-electric in new construction.

Echoing the climate strategy, Elspeth DiMarzio, an organizer with the Sierra Club, stressed that policymakers must look for ways to prevent the buildout of more natural gas pipelines that would need to be retired before the investments could be paid off.

“If you lock in new gas infrastructure now, we’ll be dealing with the ramifications for the next 30-plus years,” she said, noting that investments are typically paid off in rates. 

Questions about cost and land use

Southwest Gas, the state’s largest natural gas utility, said in a statement that the company was committed to working with the state on climate goals but was concerned about costs. 

“We believe any conversation about the sustainable energy future must consider the cost burden to Nevadans,” Scott Leedom, the utility’s director of public affairs, said in an email.

“Policy-driven electrification shifts the cost to consumers away from one of the lowest monthly utility bills they face, natural gas, to one of the highest, electricity. The voices of those who rely on natural gas to make financial ends meet in homes and businesses must be heard,” he said.

Bobzien, however, noted that electric appliances are steadily evolving to become more efficient and less costly. He pointed to the fact that costs can accelerate quickly with increased demand. 

“History has shown that these cost-curves can accelerate quickly — solar being the perfect example,” Bobzien said (the price of solar has dramatically decreased over the last decade).

Additionally, the climate strategy recommends several other policies to reduce the energy consumption of buildings: appliance efficiency standards, energy codes for net-zero buildings and the expansion of energy efficient and energy-savings contract programs. 

Nat Hodgson, CEO of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, said he supports the goals to reduce carbon emissions, and he was an early backer of energy efficient codes. But he cautioned an approach that could raise costs in a way that were passed down to homebuyers. 

“I'm also the guy you call about housing affordability,” he said. 

Hodgson said new homes are already far more energy-efficient than they were a decade ago. Most homes in Southern Nevada, he said, exceed standards for energy efficiency. 

But Hodgson said housing prices could increase if there were requirements for things like charging stations or specialized outlets to allow for electric appliances in the future. He said the more cost-effective strategy would be to focus funding on retrofitting existing homes. 

“Everything we can do, "he said. “But it comes at a cost. The number one issue is affordability.”

Environmental groups said climate change demands an upfront investment that, with the right mix of incentives and rulemaking, will ultimately benefit the consumer and keep costs down. If new homes are retrofitted for a future that demands electrified buildings, it will pay dividends when there is increased demand for electric appliances. 

“It's not in our head that we're going to flip a switch and do this all in a year and everyone is going to have a fully electric efficient building,” said Dylan Sullivan, a senior policy analyst with NRDC. “It's not going to happen like that. It doesn't make sense for it to happen like that."

He said electric alternatives to gas appliances, including heat pump water heaters, are competitively priced. Sullivan said it just requires a change in thinking about building. He also pushed back on the idea that preparing homes for electric appliances is more costly.

“It's only a sunk cost if you go in and install the gas appliance,” he said. 

And many businesses support climate action. Two days after the strategy was released, the Reno and Sparks Chamber of Commerce held a series panels on the climate strategy that brought in a range of perspectives, from the Nevada Mining Association to the Sierra Club. The chamber’s CEO, Ann Silver, said in an interview that she was supportive of the strategy, noting that there were a lot of things that individuals could do to help reduce emissions. 

“I don't think we should view this as something costly,” Silver said. “To me, it's comparable to wearing a mask. Maybe you are spending $3.99 on a mask, but that’s saving a death."

Silver said businesses want to show that they are acting on climate change, and it’s often demanded by customers. She noted that change does not happen overnight. But when there is a choice to be made — like replacing old light bulbs or replacing a fleet of vehicles — businesses and consumers should consider the climate implications of their actions. 

“I don't think we've done enough to normalize the activities that should occur,” she said.

Beyond economic costs, a massive deployment of renewables to offset natural gas could have significant environmental costs on the landscape and protected habitat for imperiled species, from the Mojave desert tortoise to the Greater sage grouse.

Environmentalists and wilderness advocates said that the climate crisis is a top priority, but they have urged the state to adopt a careful planning approach that avoids causing further environmental damage in pursuing more renewable energy infrastructure. 

Jaina Moan, external affairs director for The Nature Conservancy in Nevada, has advocated for siting solar, as much as possible, on previously developed land, like abandoned mines. 

The state’s strategy acknowledges issues around siting renewables, advocating a “smart-from-the-start” approach. Moan hopes to see a continued commitment from the state.

“A commitment and incentives for developing on lower-impact lands are needed,” she said.

Reducing emissions in transportation

As the state phases out natural gas, the strategy emphasizes the need to transition away from fossil fuels in the transportation sector, the leading source of the state's emissions.

To do so, the climate strategy included five policy proposals: the adoption of low- and zero-emissions vehicle standards, a clean truck program, low-carbon fuel standards, a “cash for clunkers” program and ending a loophole that allows car owners to evade emission checks. 

Electrifying the transportation sector was identified as one of the most complex issues facing the state’s decarbonization goal, one that requires buy-in from consumers and an array of state and local governmental agencies responsible for roads and infrastructure.

In addition to adopting electrification policies, the report said the state should also look for ways to manage transportation demand, decreasing the number of miles traveled in personal vehicles and increasing incentives for public transit and telecommuting.

Tackling how cars are used is crucial, the report said, with the number of miles traveled in cars — calculated as Vehicle Miles Traveled — increasing faster than the population.

“If this trend does not change,” the report says, “[emission] targets will be difficult to meet, even with aggressive changes to vehicle efficiency and fuel type, due to turnover rate of vehicles and other transportation-related [greenhouse gas] emissions, such as roadway building and maintenance.”

Despite the headwinds, the report also casts electrifying transportation as an opportunity. 

“Nevada is uniquely poised to capitalize on its unique assets by leveraging growth in the EV sector to become a hub for transportation electrification,” the report said.

The strategy notes that Nevada could play a role in the electric-vehicle supply chain, given the need for more lithium. The country’s only active lithium operation is based outside of Tonopah, and over the past five years, there has been an increase in lithium exploration.

Earlier this year, Nevada started a rulemaking process to adopt low and zero-emission vehicle standards through an initiative known as Clean Cars Nevada. Such standards, adopted in 14 states and modeled after California’s rules, would require car manufacturers to sell low-emission vehicles in Nevada and set credit targets for zero-emission vehicles. 

Andrew MacKay, executive director of the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association and a former chairman of the Nevada Transportation Authority, said he was not surprised by the proposals and said there were some common-sense ideas. He cited closing the “classic car” loophole, which allows newer cars to avoid emission inspections, as one.

But he also said his group would ultimately not support the adoption of emission standards, instead preferring a national standard and letting markets guide electric-vehicle adoption.

“My opinion is this: Let the market work," MacKay said.

Despite disagreements with some of the policy recommendations, MacKay said he wanted to see the state address climate change and was impressed by the breadth of the strategy.

"This is going to result in the drafting of big pieces of legislation, regulatory efforts and the whole nine yards,” MacKay said, noting momentum in state government to take action.

What happens at the state level is only one aspect of climate action. The report comes as large corporations set net-zero goals, demanding a more fuel-efficient and eventually zero-carbon supply chain, and as car manufacturers seek to create new electric products to meet those goals. There is also another big player in the transportation sector: California. 

Paul Enos, who heads the Nevada Trucking Association, said that what California does can have a big effect in Nevada. He said many of his members already have trucks that meet California standards, so regulatory changes in Nevada could have a more minimal effect.

He said the climate strategy’s analysis of a new Clean Trucks Program provided a “honest assessment,” considering the economics and the impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 

“The reality is that so many of the trucks that are based here in Nevada, operating here in Nevada, they're already meeting the California standard,” Enos said in an interview.

Many of the big players in the trucking industry are already moving toward reducing their emissions as large corporate end-users look to meet their sustainability goals, Enos said. But any new rules could have a disparate impact on smaller trucking companies. And unlike in California, he said Nevada might not have the ability to offer incentives to smaller players in the industry. He said state regulators should weigh that with any rules they create.

"California can afford to get a lot of things wrong that we can’t afford to do in Nevada,” Enos said. “I worry about the small guys. I worry about the owner-operators.”

Starting a conversation on climate justice

For all of the policies analyzed, the state’s strategy considers climate justice issues as one of the four most primary metrics to guide the state’s action on reducing carbon emissions. 

Averyt, who led the report’s drafting as the head of the Nevada Climate Initiative, said this was a critical part of the report. In the coming months and years, Averyt expects that more information will be added to the strategy and the state will produce additional reports. 

She said climate justice will continue to be used as a metric to analyze policy. 

Across the nation and in Nevada, the effects of climate change often fall disproportionately on marginalized communities, amplifying inequality. More heat in urban areas, for instance, can lead to increased energy demand for cooling among residents who already spend a larger percentage of their income on electricity bills. In other cases, power plants and freeways with high emissions have historically been sited near low-income neighborhoods. 

At the same time, the action needed to address climate change can also disproportionately affect marginalized communities, often least responsible for creating the problem.

Climate justice activists in Nevada are concerned with both issues. They said the report was a starting point, but they hope to see more direct climate justice policies in the future. 

“My initial reaction was that it was a good start, but it was leaving out a lot of policies that I wanted to see discussed,” said Ainslee Archibald, a coordinator for the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition. “I felt it was kind of half of what we needed and half of what we didn’t.”

Early on, the strategy argues that climate action could be a way to correct environmental injustices that occurred in the past and create a more equitable economy moving forward.

“Through climate action, there is the opportunity to reconcile the social justice challenges Nevadans face,” the report said a few paragraphs into the Executive Summary section. 

For Archibald, who is also an organizer for the Sunrise Movement in Las Vegas, that would mean a transition from market-based systems to policies with fewer barriers to access. She said she would like to see more consideration placed on public transit and energy choice, the ability to produce rooftop solar and community solar in a way that is cost-effective. 

Moore, an organizer for EcoMadres and a member of the coalition, echoed these calls. 

“It's great that we are talking about electrification of vehicles and electric infrastructure but we need to think about ways to make these things accessible to everyone,” Moore said.

She said part of what the state should do, moving forward, is ensure more direct outreach to communities rather than conduct public outreach primarily on social media. Doing so, she said, would allow officials to more adequately address climate justice in policy making.

“There is so much work that still needs to be done,” Moore said.

Report: Nevada is not on track to meet its 2050 climate target, but there are policy pathways to get there

A new report from environmental groups concludes that Nevada will not meet its 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals with existing policies, and it urges the state to adopt an ambitious approach, including a transition to roughly 80 percent renewable energy by 2030. 

The report comes as Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration evaluates a strategy for reducing emissions to zero or near-zero by 2050. The state’s strategy, which is being developed across agencies as part of the Nevada Climate Initiative, is scheduled to be sent to the governor by Dec. 1.

The report, written by GridLab, Evolved Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, offers an early glimpse into some of the policies around decarbonization that are likely to come up in the Legislature, in regulatory bodies and in local governments over the next several decades as the state — and the world — looks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that set the state’s first ever emission reduction targets. The legislation, SB 254, recognized the threat of climate change and spelled out benchmarks for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero or near-zero within the next three decades. The reduction targets were designed to align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. is expected to rejoin under a Biden administration. 

If the state intends to meet the Legislature’s goals for reducing emissions, the authors of the new report argue that the state must act swiftly to retire coal-fired power plants, transition to electric vehicles and begin to move away from natural gas in homes and businesses.

The report concluded that the modeling by Evolved Energy, a research firm, “shows us that the state will fail to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals without new policies, fast power emissions reductions, and near-complete electrification of building and transportation.”

In addition, the report emphasized the need for decarbonization that considers “inequality and inequity in program design,” stressing that many residents most affected by climate change are those who already bear a high energy burden, the percentage of income spent on energy and fuel.

But the report’s recommendations could face political obstacles. Fully implementing the policies, in many cases, will need the backing of not only the Legislature, but state agencies, regulators, utility providers and local governments from across the state.

Much of the report focuses on the power sector. NV Energy has committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and has proposed numerous solar projects in recent years. 

Still, there remain questions about when and how that transition would occur. Although the report finds that decarbonization can occur without significantly raising fuel costs, some organizations have already started to insert cost as a reason to take a cautious approach.

Proposals to transition away from natural gas in businesses and homes will likely face pushback from Southwest Gas. The utility provides natural gas service across the state, is expanding its service and is seeing continued demand for connections in most newly constructed homes.

“When you are passing significant policies in the Legislature, there are always going to be tough conversations,” said Elspeth DiMarzio, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “I think those will happen and I think we welcome those."

“We’re confident this is not only what Nevada has to do for its environment, but I think the economics also make sense for the state,” added DiMarzio, an author of the report.

Tackling power sector emissions

In the short-term, the new report finds that a lot depends on what happens with Nevada’s two remaining coal-fired power plants: the North Valmy Generating Station and the TS Power Plant.

Both units of the Valmy plant, owned by NV Energy and Idaho Power, are expected to go offline by 2025. The TS Power Plant, owned by Nevada Gold Mines, is being converted to a dual-fuel coal-gas operation. But if all coal units continue operating past 2025, the report finds that other aspects of the economy, like transportation and indoor heating, will have to electrify faster.

“The carbon emissions that coal plants have is so significant,” DiMarzio said.

Continuing to decarbonize the electric sector, the report concludes, is a priority, and efforts are already underway to do so. Nevada has seen an increase in large-scale solar projects. And on Tuesday, voters approved Question 6, a ballot measure that will amend the Nevada Constitution and require energy providers to have a renewable portfolio of at least 50 percent by 2030. 

But as The Nevada Independent has reported in the past, the 50 percent standard will likely leave the state shy of its 2030 target: to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent compared to 2005 levels. Under most decarbonization scenarios in the report, doing so would require a roughly 90 percent reduction in power-sector carbon emissions, compared to 2005. 

It would also require a renewable portfolio standard of about 80 percent. 

There is another reason that is important, the report’s authors said. The report advocates an approach to decarbonization — a similar one being taken elsewhere in the country — that relies on the electrification of other economic sectors: transportation, buildings and industrial activities.

Although the U.S. grid has seen a transition from coal over the past decade, the power sector still heavily relies on natural gas, including in Nevada. A swift transition toward more renewable energy would make it possible to electrify other sectors without relying on emitting fossil fuel.

Here’s how the report put it: “A low-emissions power sector allows other sectors, especially transportation and buildings, to rely on electrification as a key decarbonization strategy.”

An equitable transportation transition

The report urges policymakers to consider the equity implications of future policy decisions, especially around electrification in the transportation sector. Cars and trucks are responsible for most of the pollution from small particulate matter, in addition to a significant chunk of carbon emissions. Those emissions disproportionately affect frontline communities, the report found.

“Emissions are concentrated in socioeconomically vulnerable census tracts and are also higher along transportation corridors, indicating the importance of addressing pollution from heavy-duty vehicles,” the report said, emphasizing the need for emission reductions in heavy-duty fleets.

To meet the state’s climate goals, the report said that electric vehicles should comprise at least 25 percent of sales for light-duty vehicles, such as commercial cars and trucks, by 2026. Four years later, more than half of vehicle sales should be electric to stay on track, the report said. 

“We have to do a lot to get to 2030,” said Dylan Sullivan, who co-authored the report as a senior scientist and clean energy program manager with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

He stressed that it is the direction that the industry is already headed, as projections suggest an increasing supply of commercial electric vehicles in the market.

But Sullivan, echoing the report, said that policymakers need to consider the equity implications of electrifying transportation. The report suggests that one way of doing that would be to prioritize electrification in areas, such as highway corridors, that are disproportionately affected by pollution. Another option, the report says, would be to create incentive programs that ensure eligibility for lower-income households. 

The report offers an array of policy options, emphasizing the need to decrease pollution from emissions-intensive medium and heavy-duty vehicles, like freight trucks. That segment of the transportation sector is so emissions-intensive that cumulative emissions could continue to rise, even as commercial vehicles electrify, the report found.

Policymakers, the report said, could address that segment of the transportation sector with the adoption of new rules as well as by working with the industry to reduce emissions. 

For transitioning the transportation sector, the report proposes other policies: require utility investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, adopt a zero-emission vehicle program, invest in more public transportation infrastructure and close smog check exemptions for classic cars.

Sullivan said that the policies in the report are only recommendations. Instead, he said that the report is meant to reflect the ambition of what it will take to meet the state's climate goals, showing “the scale of what the state needs to be aiming for in the next few years.”

Where buildings fit in

Buildings are not often thought of as a climate problem or a climate solution.

The report identifies them as both. Most buildings in Nevada rely on natural gas for cooking, heating water and heating homes. In addition, buildings suck up a lot of power. They need air conditioning in the summertime, a demand that is only increasing as the climate changes. As new homes are built, the report finds that “building sector emissions are expected to increase.”

In the report’s projections of what is necessary to meet the 2050 target, natural gas use must be gradually phased out, especially after 2030. The report also found that new homes should be more energy efficient, and existing homes should be retrofitted to increase their efficiency.

Efficiency can also help reduce bills for customers, the report found, especially in areas where residents have a high energy burden and are expected to experience more heat in the coming decades.

The report projects that about 45 percent of residential appliances and about 25 percent of commercial space and water heating must be electric by 2030 for the state to meet its goals.

To get there, the report recommended adopting appliance standards and ensuring that new buildings move to all-electric appliances. It also said the state should stop expanded investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, which can take about 60 years to pay off. 

The report advocates for requiring gas utilities to undergo a planning process, similar to what is required of electric utilities. Such a process could weigh future investments against demand for gas and the state’s climate goals. Environmentalists have argued that natural gas should not be the default option for heating buildings. 

Scott Leedom, the utility’s director of public affairs, said he was concerned about the cost effects of transitioning from natural gas to electric. And he said transitioning to the grid “feels premature” when the power sector still gets the bulk of its energy from natural gas. 

"For us, it's important to consider the efficiency of the grid [an appliance is] plugging into,” he said.

Lawmakers to weigh tax at charging stations for electric vehicles

Electric car owners in Nevada could soon be required to pay a 10 percent tax when charging their vehicles under legislation proposed by Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer.

Introduced on Monday, SB114 would impose a 10 percent surcharge on electric vehicle charging ports and deposit the tax funds in the State Highway Fund, the budgetary account for road construction and repair funded primarily by gasoline taxes. If approved, the bill would take effect in 2020.

In an interview, Settelmeyer said he was bringing the bill as several of the state’s existing electric vehicle charging stations, mostly built over the last four years through federal grant funds, were closing out a required 2-year period of free charging — meaning drivers now need to actually pay to charge their electric vehicles at charging stations.

“If you’re being able to earn money off of this, then 10 percent of that should go to the state to the highway fund,” he said. “Again, to try and help pay for the lack of funding due to the fact they’re electric.”

It’s unclear whether any other states place a surcharge on electric vehicle charging stations, although a handful of states levy registration fees on electric vehicles or tax them based on total miles traveled.

According to a tally by the Sierra Club, at least 17 states have adopted some kind of additional registration fee for electric vehicles to help fund road repairs. The environmental group is opposed to electric vehicle registration fees, saying it unfairly targets electric car owners and fails to raise enough funds to substantially affect road and infrastructure spending.

“Nevada must stand up for its electric vehicle drivers and the growing EV economy,” Sierra Club Nevada Campaign Representative Elspeth DiMarzio said in an emailed statement. “Special interests want to destroy that market with punitive fees, and impede our progress on the transportation pollution problem.”

Settelmeyer also said he had requested a bill draft to create an optional electric vehicle license plate, which would cost drivers $150 with the funds being split equally between the state Highway Fund and electric vehicle charging infrastructure and administration.

Settelmeyer said he was opposed to mandating fees — noting the license plate would not be mandatory and drivers could get around the 10 percent surcharge by charging at home — and said he didn’t want to place unwieldy barriers to electric vehicle ownership.

“People had a reasonable reliance that they wouldn’t have gigantic increases and they’d be able to save some money,” he said. “So if we go too far, then we’re the other way and we’re discouraging people from buying electric cars.”

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. Tesla, a major electric car manufacturer, declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

Under former Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada launched an “electric highway” initiative in 2015 that aimed to use federal grants to install electric vehicle charging stations in remote outposts of the state and reduce so-called “range anxiety” for drivers of electric vehicles.

According to data compiled by the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, Nevada’s percentage of drivers with electric cars (1.53 percent) is below the national average of 2.24 percent, with 1,068 electric vehicles registered in the state as of 2017.

Adding additional fees on electric vehicles may have bipartisan support. In an interview last week, Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson said he was “supportive of efforts” to make electric vehicle owners pay into road repair budget accounts.

“They do a little less damage because they’re not as heavy, but they’re doing damage to the roads, and so how do we get them to participate in the roads?” he said. “In other states, [cities such as] Chicago and Los Angeles, they have a state income tax and that’s how they pay for their roads, [but] we don’t have a state income tax, so it has to come through [tax] dollars and I think every car on the road should be participating in that. I’ve made that no secret.”

Atkinson said he wasn’t ready to support any proposal that would tax electric vehicles based on miles traveled, a proposal entertained by other states.

Democratic Sen. Patricia Spearman and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno both confirmed Wednesday that they are working on measures related to electric vehicles, but said it was too early to discuss the specifics of their individual bills.