How NV Energy pushed Sisolak, other Nevada leaders to back union leader’s candidacy for federal energy regulator

In early June, a top lobbyist for NV Energy reached out to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office with a request.

The ask was straightforward: Would the governor be willing to send a letter in support of longtime International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers attorney Tom Dalzell, one of the finalists for a soon-to-open spot on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission board?

The request had resonance beyond Nevada. President Joe Biden’s pending appointment to FERC — the top federal regulator of electric and natural gas transmission and sales — is hotly anticipated among many energy and environmental groups because it will break the current 3-2 Republican majority on the regulatory agency. (The nominee will replace Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee).

A report in Politico from last month indicated that Dalzell, along with two-time Washington state lawmaker Maria Duaime Robinson and Washington D.C. utilities regulator Willie Phillips, are on Biden’s shortlist for the position. The vacancy has drawn intense interest from environmental groups, as slim Democratic majorities in Congress likely mean that FERC may end up paying a “pivotal role” in implementing Biden’s climate change policies.

Union groups, including the AFL-CIO and IBEW, have rallied around Dalzell as their preferred pick — even as progressive groups and environmental advocacy groups have questioned his support for renewable policies and his ties to large electric companies including PG&E and NV Energy. Dalzell spent 15 years as business manager of IBEW 1245, which is based in California and represents about 600 NV Energy employees in Northern Nevada.

According to emails obtained through a public records request by The Nevada Independent, longtime NV Energy lobbyist Tony Sanchez emailed a top Sisolak advisor, Scott Gilles, on June 9 noting that Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen had sent letters in support of Dalzell to the White House in recent weeks and wondered if the governor “would consider doing the same.” 

Cortez Masto’s office confirmed that the senator had sent a letter in support of Dalzell to the White House; Rosen’s office did not return a request for comment. Sanchez also forwarded a similar letter of support from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

After some back and forth, Gilles forwarded a letter of support from Sisolak to Sanchez — touting Dalzell as having “exceptional leadership, an innovative approach to making decisions about our energy future and a steadfast commitment to diversity and empowering the next generation.”

A spokeswoman for Sisolak did not return a request for comment on the letter. NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in an email on Friday that the company believes it would be a “natural fit” for the governor to support Dalzell, given his past support for Nevada’s de-carbonization goals and his “innovative and collaborative leadership” that has “transformed the union/company relationship at NV Energy and his contributions have improved workplace safety, business efficiencies and worker interests.”

“Given Tom’s contributions to help re-shape Nevada’s energy future and his strong support of Governor Sisolak’s vision for a clean energy economy, NV Energy believed it would be a natural fit for Governor Sisolak to provide a letter of support for Tom,” she said in an email on Friday. “NV Energy is proud to support Tom.”

Despite being based in California, Dalzell has ties in the Nevada political world. He was listed as a co-chair of the Coalition to Defeat Question 3, the political action committee largely funded by NV Energy that opposed a 2018 ballot question opening up the state’s electric market to retail choice. He was also pictured with Sisolak at a union-hosted event for candidates ahead of the 2018 election.

Several environmental groups — who take interest in FERC because the agency oversees natural gas pipeline permitting — have opposed Dalzell’s candidacy. The left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research criticized Dalzell’s connections with PG&E and efforts opposing municipalization efforts in San Francisco and West Sacramento. 

The group also highlighted his and IBEW’s opposition to a California bill that would have required a halt to fossil fuel use by 2017 — saying “We have a parochial self-interest in this” — and a 2017 op-ed Dalzell penned in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighting the importance of natural gas during periods of peak demand.

“Those trusted to make crucial decisions throughout the federal government must have proven independence from the corporate entities they are tasked with regulating,” the group wrote in a blog post.

Last week, a group of more than 460 environmental and energy justice groups issued a public letter to the Biden administration urgining the administration to appoint a FERC commissioner who is “concerned about FERC’s legacy of prioritizing projects over people, has the courage to apply an equity and justice lens to their work, and will be accountable to the people and communities that are disproportionately harmed by the energy industry.” It named three possible candidates; the list did not include Dalzell.

Dalzell stepped down from IBEW leadership in December 2020, ending a four-decade career as one of the union’s lead negotiators, representing the union in more than 300 arbitrations and leading all negotiations with PG&E since 2001. He lives in Berkeley, and has written at least three books on American slang.

Reporter Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

Cortez Masto, Susie Lee again lead second quarter fundraising tallies as 2022 money race ramps up

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto speaking into a microphone behind a podium

Nevada’s incumbent Democrats padded their campaign war chests through the second quarter, with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee leading their respective fields, according to data reported this week by the Federal Election Commission. 

Cortez Masto raked in nearly $2.8 million, exceeding her first quarter fundraising by nearly half a million dollars. Lee, meanwhile, raised more than $615,000, an amount roughly equaling her own first quarter numbers. 

With just under a year remaining before next year’s primary elections, fields in every race remain relatively small. Still, a handful of new entrants have emerged in the state’s key congressional battlegrounds, including three Republicans each in District 3 and 4 (both held by Democrats), and a primary challenger to Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the deep blue District 1. 

Below are additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate who filed with the FEC as of Friday, broken down by congressional race and ordered from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) - incumbent

With no declared challengers through the entirety of the second quarter, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto boosted her campaign warchest with more than $2.7 million in contributions. Even after spending nearly $900,000, that sum lifted her cash on hand to nearly $6.6 million.

Cortez Masto’s campaign touted that cash on hand cushion as a crucial advantage this week, though the race to take or hold her seat in the Senate will likely draw millions more in fundraising for both major parties as next year’s general election approaches.

Still, her quarterly fundraising total was the lowest of any of the four Democratic Senate incumbents running in states rated as “Lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, a group of candidates that also includes Kelly ($6 million raised), Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock ($7.2 million) and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan ($3.3 million). 

A vast majority of her second quarter fundraising — more than $2.3 million — came from individuals. Another $342,000 came from PACs, with the remainder flowing from committee transfers ($101,000), expenditure offsets and other receipts.

Almost a quarter of Cortez Masto’s spending — more than $218,000 — went to expenses related to fundraising mailers, including consultants, printing and postage, with even more ($343,000) dedicated to online fundraising expenses. 

Two Republican candidates, Sharelle Mendenhall and Sam Brown, formed campaign committees in July and did not report fundraising in the second quarter, which ended in June. 

Susie Lee (D) - incumbent 

Frequently the top House fundraiser in Nevada, Democratic Rep. Susie Lee once again led the state’s congressional candidates in the money race with more than $615,000 in second quarter contributions, pushing her cash on hand to nearly $955,000. 

Almost three-quarters of Lee’s fundraising, about $447,000, came from individual contributions, with another $156,000 coming from PACs. Much of the total also came from big-money donations, including eight contributions of the $5,000 maximum from PACs, and another 85 contributions of the maximum $2,900 for individuals (all totaling for a combined $286,500).

Lee’s spending last quarter neared $144,000, with sizable chunks of that money flowing to consultants — who combined for $45,700 in expenses — and advertising, including $20,000 for a digital ad campaign from Washington, D.C.-based firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

A one-time 2020 Nevada Senate hopeful-turned congressional challenger, April Becker led the district’s field of Republicans last quarter with nearly $251,000 in contributions, as well as roughly $259,000 cash on hand. 

Almost all of Becker’s fundraising came from individual contributions, with some major donors including several linked to the Meruelo Group — including maximum $5,800 contributions from Alex Meruelo, his wife Liset, and Meruelo Enterprises Vice President Luis Armona — and members of the Station Casinos-owning Fertitta family, including $5,800 contributions from Frank Fertitta III, Jill Fertitta, Lorenzo Fertitta and Teresa Fertitta. 

Becker also far outspent her rivals, dropping nearly $123,000, including more than $84,000 on expenses related to consulting or advertising. Of that money, more than $17,000 went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm November Inc., and nearly $19,000 went to October Inc.

Mark Robertson (R)

Another early entrant into the District 3 race, veteran Mark Robertson trailed Becker with $104,000 in contributions and nearly $117,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of his fundraising, roughly $97,000, came from individual contributions, with another $3,000 coming from PACs and $3,600 coming from candidate loans. Many of Robertson’s biggest donors were Las Vegas-based business owners, including America’s Mart owners Nick and Kristy Willden ($5,800 each), Sunrise Paving’s Glenn and Jill Warren ($5,800 each) and Patrick’s Signs CFO Tiffani Dean ($5,800). 

Robertson reported spending only $31,000 last quarter, with much of it split between consulting, advertising and event fees. 

Noah Malgeri (R)

The newest Republican challenger in the field who entered the race in early June — just before the quarter ended — Republican attorney and business owner Noah Malgeri trailed the rest of the field with nearly $39,000 in second quarter fundraising and $32,400 cash on hand. 

That money stems mostly from more than $31,100 in candidate loans, buoyed by another $7,750 in individual contributions. 

Of the $6,300 Malgeri spent last quarter, almost all of it ($6,033) went to Las Vegas-based firm McShane, LLC. 

One other candidate, Republican Reinier Prijten, briefly filed in April before formally terminating his campaign committee in May.

Steven Horsford (D) - incumbent

Touting record off-year fundraising for a single quarter, Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford pulled in more than $581,000 last quarter, boosting his cash on hand to more than $1.2 million — a massive sum larger even than Nevada’s usual fundraising frontrunner, Susie Lee, and almost eight times as much money as his next nearest Republican competitor. 

A slight majority of Horsford’s fundraising ($305,800) came from individual contributions, with the remaining $275,000 coming from PAC money. Like Lee, Horsford also saw most of his money flow from big-dollar fundraising and maximum contributions, including 15 $5,000 maximum contributions from PACs, and another 127 individual contributions between the maximum $2,900 and $2,000. 

Together, those major contributions combine for more than $414,000. 

Horsford’s campaign spent more than $127,000 through the quarter, including more than $11,000 on online advertising and more than $22,000 on consulting.   

Sam Peters (R)

The runner-up in last year’s Republican primary in District 4, veteran and insurance salesman Sam Peters entered this year’s race with a fundraising edge on his Republican rivals. That edge continued into the second quarter, where he raised more than $119,000 and was left with more than $155,000 cash on hand. 

Peters saw a handful of maximum individual contributions through the quarter, with most coming from retirees or real estate-related donors. 

Peters was the only Republican spending large amounts last quarter, dropping more than $76,000. A sizable chunk of that spending, almost $34,000, went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm McShane, while another $18,700 went to credit card fees. 

Carolina Serrano (R) 

Though she was a relatively late entrant into the race, only forming her campaign committee in June, former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano still banked more than $49,000 last quarter and enters the third quarter with more than $42,000 left on hand. 

A majority of that fundraising came from a handful of big names (both current and former) in the gaming industry. That includes maximum $5,800 contributions from former Wynn CEO Steve Wynn and his wife, Andrea, as well as another $5,800 from Meruelo Group President Alex Meruelo, $4,200 from his wife Liset, $5,800 from Meruelo Group Executive Vice President Luis Armona and $4,200 from his wife, Margaret. 

Together, those six contributions alone total $31,600, or roughly two-thirds of all the money Serrano raised. 

Serrano spent comparatively little last quarter — just $6,200 — though nearly all of it came through a $5,000 digital ad buy.  

Tony Lane (R)

A former player for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the mid-90s and now a Las Vegas business owner, Tony Lane raised the least of any Republican in the race with just $3,942. He spent nearly all of it — $3,362 — leaving just under $580 cash on hand. 

One other candidate, non-partisan John Johnson, did not report fundraising for this period, despite forming a campaign committee in February. 

Dina Titus (D) - incumbent

Facing what could be her first serious primary challenge since winning District 1 in 2012, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus roughly tripled her fundraising from the first quarter to the second, raking in more than $152,000 and lifting her cash on hand to more than $463,000. 

Of all Nevada’s federal-level midterms next year, Titus’ race could become the center of a split between the establishment wing of the state party and a surging group of left-wing activists. 

Those activists won a key victory in March of this year, electing a slate of progressives to party leadership positions. Ahead of that loss, the party apparatus hemorrhaged staffers and hundreds of thousands in money was transferred from state party accounts to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Establishment Democrats have since launched a new campaign apparatus, the Nevada Democratic Victory campaign. 

Titus’ fundraising was almost even split between individual contributions ($80,000) and PAC money ($72,000), with some of Titus’ largest fundraisers including Las Vegas mega-donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,800), Las Vegas-based attorney and political director for the state Senate Democrats Alisa Nave ($5,600) and Las Vegas-based doctor and frequent Democratic donor Nic Spirtos ($5,800).

Titus spent little in comparison to her fellow incumbents, logging just under $29,000 in expenditures last quarter. Most of that money, almost $20,000, went to consultants, including more than $12,000 for fundraising consulting. 

Amy Vilela (D)

A third-place runner up in the 2018 race to fill the open seat left in District 4 by the departure of Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen (a race ultimately won by Steven Horsford), Amy Vilela has entered 2022’s primary for District 1 as a progressive challenge to the establishment-backed Titus.

Touting her efforts for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020 and, more recently, an endorsement from progressive Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, Vilela posted nearly $82,000 in second-quarter fundraising, with almost $58,000 cash on hand. 

All of that fundraising came from individual contributions, and all came through the online Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue. As a result, much of her fundraising came from out-of-state. Of 56 unique contributors to Vilela’s campaign, just 10 listed a Nevada address.

Vilela reported just $23,300 in spending, with almost all of it dedicated to operating expenses, including $2,500 spent on consulting. 

Mark Amodei (R) - incumbent

As he has continued to leave the door open for a possible run at the governor’s mansion, Republican incumbent Mark Amodei nearly outspent his fundraising through the second quarter, burning through more than $88,000 of the $90,000 raised, leaving roughly $325,500 cash on hand. 

Outside one $2,900 contribution from Cashell Enterprises CEO Rob Cashell Jr., most of Amodei’s major donations came from PACs or corporate donors. That includes $5,000 from Las Vegas Sands, $5,000 from the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, and $2,500 each from NV Energy, the American Bakers Association, construction materials company CalPortland and the law firm Holland & Hart. 

Some of Amodei’s spending went to a number of contributions to other Republican incumbents, including $1,000 each for Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, and California Rep. David Valadao. 

However, Amodei also spent large sums on consulting ($37,500) and “contributor relations” expenses ($15,400). 

One other candidate, Democrat Aaron Michael Sims, formed a campaign committee in the second quarter but did not file a campaign finance report as of Friday morning.

Extreme heat is here, but not everyone has access to an essential service: A/C

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.


Record-breaking temperatures swept across the West last week. On Saturday, Las Vegas tied its all-time temperature record of 117 degrees. As of Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Reno reported 12 days of temperatures over 100 degrees to date this year, far exceeding the previous record of seven days. Death Valley again hit 130 degrees. 

Extreme heat, made worse by climate change, is a public health issue, often underreported and hidden from public view in a way that other natural disasters are not. It is a slow-moving crisis. Heat can increase hospitalizations as high temperatures worsen underlying conditions. 

And extreme heat can be fatal. Oregon and Washington have reported a death toll of nearly 200 people during the record-breaking heatwave. In areas like the Pacific Northwest, with temperate weather and less air-conditioning, the consequences of extreme heat can be even greater. 

Still, in cities such as Las Vegas, where summers are historically warm, extreme heat poses major public health risks. 8 News Now recently reported that heat was a primary factor in 124 deaths last year and 12 deaths so far this year, according to the Clark County Coroner. 

From July 7 and July 11, the Clark County Fire Department said that it responded to 85 incidents categorized as heat or cold exposure, though that number likely undercounts what in reality was a higher number of calls. A spokesperson for the department said in an email that other calls, categorized as “unknown problem” or “unconscious people,” were heat-related.

If extreme heat can be life-threatening, access to cool spaces can often be life-saving, and increasingly so, as temperatures rise. But for many, there are significant barriers to accessing cool spaces, whether inside their homes or at work. This summer, that fact has been exacerbated by A/C supply chain and workforce issues.

With different geographies and average temperature, the situation is different in Las Vegas or Reno. But in both of Nevada’s metro areas, some groups — low-income households, renters, outdoor workers, elderly populations, homeless individuals — are at a greater risk of not being able to access indoor cooling or shade. 

In Reno, which has seen a nearly seven-degree increase in average annual temperatures over the last 50 years, city officials recognized this in their climate plan. They wrote: “Extreme heat creates public health impacts when vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, seniors and low-income residents, don’t have air conditioning or other options for relief.”

The next line was a harbinger of what’s to come as the climate changes: “Extreme heat events are projected to increase in magnitude and frequency.”

It’s important for policymakers to begin thinking about these issues now and in a “holistic way,” said Dylan Sullivan, a Reno-based senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council who recently wrote a post on extreme heat that included recommendations for policymakers.

Sullivan’s background is in energy efficiency, and he notes that the conversation is not only about A/C. Homes that are inefficient tend to trap heat and stay warmer. Although there is funding for “weatherization” programs to retrofit and upgrade older homes, the current programs do not go far enough (the infrastructure bill being debated in Congress looks at releasing more weatherization funding).

“Putting in place policies that make it really easy for customers — and really cheap or free for low income customers — to weatherproof old buildings and keep cool air indoors is really important for long-term climate adaptation in Nevada,” Sullivan said.

But ensuring access to indoor cooling is also a big part of the equation. Sullivan said “there's a big role for the electric utility” in helping customers install efficient A/C systems. 

In NV Energy’s Las Vegas service territory, an average market profile for the residential sector, using 2016 data, shows central A/C saturation at about 88 percent, according to a report that the utility filed with state regulators as part of a resource planning process. Other residential customers have room A/C-units, air-source heat pumps or rely on evaporative cooling.

Compare that to Northern Nevada. In NV Energy’s northern service territory, which serves Reno and a large swath of the northern part of the state, central A/C saturation is closer to 57 percent and room A/C saturation is 12 percent, according to the same report.

The utility currently offers discounts for replacements or upgrades in Las Vegas but not in the northern part of the state. Sullivan said he would like to see the program expanded.

“The company should be operating a program like that in the North,” he said.

But even for people with A/C units, repairs can be costly and challenging, especially for renters. A backlog of work orders or resistance from a landlord can leave customers without A/C for days, sometimes during the hottest parts of the year.

Under Nevada law, landlords are required to provide renters with essential services. The list includes things like a functioning door lock. It also includes heat and air-conditioning. 

“It's clear there in the statute that air conditioning is an essential service that's required to be provided by a landlord,” said Aaron MacDonald, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. 

Most of the issues, he said, are resolved before they come to his office. But if a landlord does not fix the issue, then renters approach the Legal Aid Center. If the issue persists, a renter may obtain cooling services and deduct the cost up to one month’s worth of rent, obtain other housing, sue the landlord or withhold rent with no late penalty. 

But there are some caveats that stem from another crisis: COVID-19. You cannot withhold rent if you are behind on rent — and many renters are behind on their rent because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. Making matters worse, the state has been slow to disburse rental assistance.

And “if they are evicted, then they are going to be out in the heat homeless," MacDonald said.

On the landlord side, a supply-chain shortage related to the pandemic has slowed A/C repairs in certain cases. Susy Vasquez, who leads the Nevada State Apartment Association, said that her members try to do what they can, sometimes opening model units for renters to ensure they have A/C. But she said that without rental assistance, small landlords are being hit too.

“There are people that are struggling, and there are people that haven't been able to make their mortgage payment because their rent isn't coming in,” Vasquez said. “And they don't have the funds to fix their air conditioner.”

Issues with access to cool spaces are not only limited to the indoors. They play out in a work environment too for many outdoor workers. After a farmworker died in Oregon last month, the state’s governor directed regulators to adopt emergency rules that would protect outdoor workers with water, shade and rest breaks. 

Do you have a personal experience with extreme heat? How has heat affected you? How have you seen temperatures change? I’m working on covering this issue in more depth, and you can read more about our reporting plan here. Please send us your stories at daniel@thenvindy.com.

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:


Little Washoe Lake in Washoe Valley on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What happened to Little Washoe Lake? The parched landscape is tragic and staggering. A lake outside of Reno, home to largemouth bass, carp and catfish has dried up rapidly over the past few weeks. Nevada Independent photographer David Calvert documented the exposed lakebed and the drying landscape — see his sobering Twitter thread. 

The region is facing extreme drought. Even in a year with a moderate snowpack across parts of Nevada and the West, less water ran off the mountains — filling rivers and lakes — because it was absorbed by dry soils. At Little Washoe Lake, dry conditions decreased the amount of water that ran off into the lake. But it’s not the only climate-related cause of the low-level declines.

The impacts to Little Washoe Lake were sudden and extreme, as if someone pulled a plug out from underneath the lake. For those who had watched the lake in the last drought, the effects seemed extreme, even for the dry conditions we have been experiencing this year. Officials with the Nevada Department of Wildlife began investigating the situation. 

What they found is what the agency’s spokesperson described to me as a “story of extremes.” The lake’s decline is the aftermath of extreme swings in weather, something that researchers predict becoming more and more common as the climate changes. 

Heavy rain in 2017, the same year the Truckee River flooded, washed out a diversion that fed water into the lake. An extreme on one side of the spectrum. Now we are facing an extreme in the other direction: drought. The washed-out diversion, combined with the extreme drought, have contributed to the severe situation at Little Washoe Lake, the wildlife agency said.

We’ll continue reporting on this story and recovery plans for the lake.

Little Washoe Lake in Washoe Valley on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Firefighters battle blazes in extreme conditions: Over the weekend, firefighters in northern California and Nevada faced dry and hot fire conditions. The Beckwourth Complex fire, not far from the Nevada border, grew to be the largest fire burning in California, prompting evacuation orders, including in Washoe County, over the weekend. Noah Berger, a photojournalist for the Associated Press, took striking photos of the fire and the response. 

  • In Washoe County, fire crews quickly responded to the Garson Fire, which broke out Sunday evening near Verdi. As of Tuesday, the fire was about 85 percent contained.
  • The Mercury News’ Paul Rogers on how bad this year’s fire year could become. One quote that stuck out to me: “We’re seeing fire activity that we would normally be seeing in September and October already,” Chief Thom Porter, Cal Fire's director said. “And we have a very long rest of the peak season to go. It’s concerning.”

An Oregon wildfire, a heat wave and an NV Energy alert: NV Energy, along with California’s grid operator, asked customers to conserve power over the weekend. The utility’s goal was to bring down overall demand amid a heatwave that added strain to the Western grid and a wildfire in Southern Oregon that threatened regional transmission lines. The Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth has an excellent piece looking at the grid dynamics in California.

  • How much did NV Energy’s request to customers help reduce demand? NV Energy sent this note out to customers Tuesday: “Working together with our smart thermostat program participants and many of our largest customers, you were able to help reduce our energy demand by approximately 300 megawatts.”
The Lake Mead bathtub ring measures about 150 feet at Hoover Dam on June 25, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Watching the Colorado River: Reporter Luke Runyon talked to people across the Colorado River Basin about what they are expecting in a watershed where there is less to go around. It’s a thoughtful and in-depth piece on one of the most important issues facing the Southwest right now. Among the issues facing Colorado River water managers is what shape negotiations will take for deciding how to operate the river after a current set of guidelines expire in 2026. 

Critical to that discussion is who will be at the table. In the past, tribes have been left out of the negotiations over the river, despite having rights to a share of one-fifth of the river’s average flows. The Associated Press’ Felicia Fonseca wrote an important piece looking at the role that the Colorado River Indian Tribes have played in Arizona’s recent Colorado River negotiations.

“We were always told more or less what to do, and so now it’s taking shape where tribes have been involved and invited to the table to do negotiations, to have input into the issues about the river,” Amelia Flores, the chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, told the AP.

As we have reported, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has focused its efforts on taking out turf, conservation and enforcement. The Guardian’s Oliver Milman went on patrol with a water investigator and wrote more about what the water authority is doing. 

And this morning, a coalition of elected officials (County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, Boulder City Mayor Kiernan McManus), a director for the Imperial Irrigation District and conservationists are holding an event at the Hoover Dam. The group is expected to call for a moratorium on new dams and diversions on the Colorado River.

Governments are looking at higher taxes for the mining industry: This is not just happening in Nevada. Rhiannon Hoyle and Ryan Dube cover the issue in the Wall Street Journal.

An important Thacker Pass hearing is coming up next week: A federal District Court judge in Reno is expected to listen to arguments next week in a case that challenges the approval of the Thacker Pass lithium mine in Humboldt County. Environmental groups challenging the project are asking the court for a preliminary injunction while the case moves forward. I’ve started going through the court documents and there are some interesting declarations. Last month, we wrote about the opposition to the project from Indigenous and local communities around the mine.

Soon-to-open Resorts World, NV Energy propose unique renewable electric service deal to state regulators

As Resorts World Las Vegas continues its march to the planned June 24 opening date, much of the spotlight will be shined on the vast amenities and ample star power heralding the opening of the 3,500 room, $4.3 billion casino resort.

But as guests arrive and fill up the Strip’s first new resort property since The Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, the electricity supporting everything from bedside lamps to the light show for a 4th of July Miley Cyrus concert will be powered by electricity procured or provided by NV Energy. 

A business taking electric service from the state’s primary electricity provider may not seem like news, but Resorts World isn’t being treated like most other electric customers. Instead, NV Energy and the casino are asking utility regulators to approve a unique market-based electricity supply deal aimed at ultimately powering the property with renewable energy.

A proposed energy supply agreement for Resorts World is the latest in a recent line of moves by NV Energy to keep its current and potential new large customers in the fold — from a special electric pricing deals powering the Raiders stadium to paying local governments substantial annual payments to stick with them as customers to establishing a renewable-based pricing plan for large customers.

The proposed energy supply agreement application with Resorts World is in the same vein — a bifurcated supply agreement would first see the utility purchase electricity for the casino resort on the wholesale market, and later dedicate a portion of production from under-construction renewable generating power plants to service the casino resort property. 

“The proposed clean energy supply agreement between Resorts World Las Vegas and NV Energy would provide the property with a dedicated, long-term resource for renewable energy for a minimum of 15 years, which we believe to be the next best step in achieving our goal of obtaining energy through 100% renewable resources,” Resorts World General Counsel Gerald Gardner wrote in an email.

The electricity pricing plan for Resorts World is called the Large Customer Market Price Energy Tariff, or LCMPE for short, and acts sort of like an incentive offered by cell phone companies — offered only to new utility customers who have not been approved by the PUC to purchase electricity on the open market and that average an annual hourly load of ten megawatts or more. It’s a pricing plan that NV Energy used on a similar project with Google’s Henderson-based data center.

The energy supply plan filing didn’t exactly come as a surprise — Resorts World and NV Energy announced back in 2019 that the companies had reached a 20-year-agreement for fully renewable bundled electric service, though most of the actual filings before the PUC have been made this year.

Because the proposed energy supply agreement was just filed this month, it will not take effect before the casino resort actually opens its doors and welcomes in visitors on next Thursday, meaning that Resorts World will pay the normal electric rates for a customer its size (residential, industrial and commercial customers all pay slightly different electric rates based on customer class).

The application submitted to the PUC splits the contract into short-term and long-term periods. The short-term period kicks in once Resorts World hits a certain threshold for average hourly electric load, and would see NV Energy serve electric needs by procuring and selling wholesale market energy to be “priced at an appropriate index pricing” or by using energy from excess capacity from the utility’s existing generating stations.

The long-term period would start no later than 2024, once under-construction clean power generating stations operated by or contracting with the utility achieve commercial operation — essentially cleaving out a portion of future produced renewable electricity for use by Resorts World.

In the application, NV Energy stressed that other customers would not see increased costs or forego benefits from the arrangement with Resorts World, but many of the specifics were kept under seal. The utility wrote in the application that keeping those portions confidential was a necessary step to ensure commercially sensitive information remained under wraps (an unredacted version was delivered to the PUC).

The redactions include information about the generating plants that Resorts World will receive dedicated electric service from and how long the contract extends, as well as anticipated electric load and the specifics on how electric pricing will be calculated.

In partially redacted testimony prepared by NV Energy executive Cynthia Alejandre, the utility said that approval of the energy supply agreement would be in the public interest not only by adding another major customer, but by also helping with job growth coming “upon the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic” and to serve as a “template” for other new large businesses coming to the state. (One additional rationale is also redacted).

More recently, NV Energy and Resorts World filed a joint petition with the PUC in April 2021 seeking a waiver to allow the casino resort to enroll in a special energy supply plan despite also temporarily taking normal service from the utility.

But PUC staff responded with concerns about granting a broad waiver before any details of an energy supply plan had been filed with the commission. In a separate joint filing made on Monday, NV Energy and Resorts World requested another temporary waiver against the requirement for a customer to not be a fully bundled customer of the utility, but “only for as long as necessary for the Commission to review” the energy supply agreement.

Secretary Granholm on Nevada’s role in the energy transition, lithium mining, rooftop solar

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.


Last Thursday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sat down for a roundtable with Gov. Steve Sisolak, Rep. Steven Horsford and other Nevada leaders. 

The roundtable was part of Granholm’s multi-state tour stumping for the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan and its efforts to speed up the energy transition. 

And if there was a theme for the day, it was the economy and jobs. 

Not long before the roundtable, Sisolak signed a massive energy infrastructure bill, SB448, at IBEW Local 357. The bill, dropped in the final weeks of the legislative session, focuses on NV Energy’s build-out of its Greenlink transmission line and the deployment of electric vehicles. 

Granholm touted the bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), who participated in the roundtable with other renewable advocates. NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon was also there. 

Other states Granholm has visited recently (Texas and West Virginia) have played central roles in producing fossil fuels: oil, gas and coal. But Nevada is in a different position. In Nevada, the fossil fuel industry is small compared to other states, where it has historically been a dominant and powerful political player. 

In Granholm’s remarks, she recognized what Nevada’s economic development planners have said for years: When it comes to energy, the opportunity for Nevada is not in fossil fuels, but as an exporter of renewable energy across the West and a key player in the battery supply chain.

From Granholm’s perspective, Nevada has everything “soup to nuts.” She pointed to the ample land for solar projects, the Tesla Gigafactory, geothermal capacity and deposits for critical minerals. 

“When I say ‘soup to nuts,’ Granholm said during an interview with The Nevada Independent on Friday, “that's really referring to the full supply chain of clean energy products that we should be building and manufacturing in this country, as well as installing and exporting.”

But doing that won’t necessarily be easy. New development in Nevada, from large-scale solar projects to mining, has, at times, faced opposition from Indigenous communities, conservation groups and local residents concerned with how projects could harm ecosystems and change the landscape.

In a brief interview Friday, as Granholm prepared to tour the Townsite solar project in Boulder City, she discussed some of the opportunities and challenges facing Nevada amid the push to place more renewables on public land and secure a domestic supply chain for the materials needed to produce electric cars.

On the need for domestic solar-panel production: Granholm stressed the importance of manufacturing solar panels in the United States, saying that “other countries have cornered the market on some of this, and we need to get it back.” She specifically singled out China, noting that President Biden had just delivered remarks concerning China’s use of forced labor.

“Nevada could be manufacturing solar panels, as well as installing them,” she said.

Land for utility-scale solar projects: Early into the interview, Granholm said that Nevada’s “comparative advantage is this massive amount of land that could be used to generate solar.” 

Nevada is one of the least densely populated states, and about 85 percent of the state’s land is managed by federal agencies, from the Department of the Defense (military bases) to the U.S. Forest Service (national forests). Most of the utility-scale solar would likely be sited on land managed by the Department of Interior, specifically the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. 

The bureau oversees about 65 percent of Nevada’s land — and they are often charged with permitting energy projects (solar, geothermal, wind, etc.). But the bureau must balance multiple (and often conflicting) activities: conservation, recreation, grazing, mining, etc.

Even with plans to prioritize energy development in low-impact areas, energy developers are still eyeing projects in sensitive areas. In Southern Nevada, projects have run into opposition over their impacts on imperiled species, such as the Mojave desert tortoise, recreation activities and sacred sites for Indigenous communities.

As a result, many environmental groups have called for better federal and state planning to direct projects into areas with fewer impacts. We asked Granholm about this and how she is working with the Department of Interior.

“I’m really enthusiastic because Secretary [Deb] Haaland and the president are really prioritizing renewable energy on public lands, and that’s onshore and offshore,” Granholm said. 

“Our team is actively working with her team to figure out how to do that,” she added. “What are the most optimal places we should be prioritizing? How do you streamline the permitting without jeopardizing the reviews that need to happen to ensure that you are protecting the resources?”

Granholm said lithium mining should have the support of Indigenous and local communities: The Energy Secretary’s visit came just days after the Biden administration released a report looking into the supply chain for electric vehicle batteries and other products needed to address climate change.

The report underscores the need for securing critical minerals both domestically and from allies. But as new mines are proposed in Nevada and across the American West, Indigenous leaders and conservation groups have raised serious concerns about how certain projects to extract key minerals, including copper and lithium, would irreparably harm the environment. 

When thinking about where to permit mines, Granholm stressed the need for community buy-in.

“The view of the administration is that mining that is done here — in the U.S. — must be done responsibly, sustainably, and with the buy-in of local and indigenous groups,” she said. 

Granholm said Indigenous communities who have been on the land for generations “have to be at the table” during mine planning. She said that companies could engage in partnerships, such as community development agreements, to direct benefits to Indigenous and local communities.

Granholm on the role of rooftop solar: NV Energy’s CEO was at the roundtable with Granholm on Thursday, and the Berkshire Hathaway-owned utility is playing a driving role in transitioning the state’s power sector away from fossil fuels. 

But what about renewable energy infrastructure that is not owned directly by the utility?

We asked Granholm about “distributed energy resources,” a very technical (and dry) phrase for electric infrastructure that is installed on-site (think rooftop solar), rather than by the utility. 

She said utility-scale and distributed generation are both “incredibly important pieces of the pie.”

Granholm noted that although the roundtable focused on NV Energy’s Greenlink transmission line (a utility-scale project), “there’s also a role for distributed transmission too — microgrids to help with resiliency — and certainly in more remote areas that are powered by solar.” 


Here’s what else I’m watching this week:

THE COLORADO RIVER

‘An earthquake in people’s sense of urgency:’ That’s a quote from The Arizona Republic’s piece about Lake Mead declining to its lowest level since the 1930s. “The lake's rapid decline has been outpacing projections from just a few months ago,” reporter Ian James wrote. 

The real-world effects of Lake Mead’s low elevation: Review-Journal reporter Blake Apgar writes that the Lake Mead boat launch area closed on Friday last week. 

Saving the Salton Sea: The Desert Sun’s Mark Olalde published an excellent, in-depth story on the proposals to fix the issues in the Salton Sea by importing water from the Sea of Cortez. 

DROUGHT HITS THE WEST

Wildlife managers drop water for bighorn sheep: Review-Journal science reporting fellow Stephanie Castillo writes about the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s efforts to replenish water sources for bighorn sheep amid severe drought conditions. “We have had to haul water on an emergency basis, but not anywhere near approaching this magnitude, this scale of severity,” said one wildlife biologist for the agency. 

Life on the edge in the Amargosa River Basin: The Amargosa River is a unique landscape that has carved out a biodiversity hotspot. But the climate change and groundwater overuse are adding new stresses to the area, as National Geographic’s Stefan Lovgren reports. 

These visuals, compiled by the New York Times, show just how bad the drought is. 

LITHIUM SUPPLY CHAIN 

Battery recycling firm is expanding: The Reno Gazette Journal’s Jason Hidalgo writes about Redwood Materials, a Nevada-based battery recycling firm that was started by a former Tesla executive. 

A Panasonic mining partnership: Neolith Energy, a venture from oil services company Schlumberger, is partnering with Panasonic on a lithium extraction project near Tonopah. 

Thacker Pass mine work delayed, via Reuters’ Ernest Scheyder. And over the weekend, more than a hundred demonstrators, including many Indigenous leaders and advocates, gathered in Reno to protest the mine (photos from the Reno Gazette Journal).

WATER AND LAND

Biden to reverse Trump’s Clean Water Act rollback: President Joe Biden’s EPA is planning to restore certain federal protections for streams and wetlands after the Trump administration weakened protections associated with the Clean Water Act, the New York Times’ Lisa Friedman reports.

Lawmakers want wild horse investigation, halt on adoptions, the Review-Journal’s Gary Martin reports.

Why does snow turn pink? The answer has to do with microalgae. But there is also an important feedback loop involving climate change — with implications for snowmelt. KUNR’s Noah Glick has more. 

Coming up: The Clark County Lands Bill is getting a hearing in Congress. 

Legislature live blog: Lawmakers pass bills expanding mail voting, authorizing cannabis lounges, short-term rental taxes

The clock struck midnight, and Nevada lawmakers finally adjourned the 2021 Legislature after a frantic final few hours that saw the passage of major election, budget, tax and other big-ticket bills.

By the end of Monday evening, lawmakers had advanced bills decriminalizing traffic tickets, moving the state to a presidential primary, authorizing cannabis consumption lounges and permanently expanding mail voting. Legislators also approved a major transmission and clean energy bill, approved a new tax structure for short-term rentals and set spending priorities for the state’s coming windfall of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds.

The final hours of the Legislature traditionally see a host of last-minute amendments, compromises and changes to legislation — something already readily apparent on Monday, with lawmakers authorizing nearly $8 million in funding to pay back DMV fees recently declared unconstitutional, and an amendment keeping special tax districts in play for Clark County but without the ability to use them for a potential major league baseball stadium.

The Nevada Independent is covering all the final moves, votes and maneuvers of the 2021 Legislature. Here’s a look at some of the major votes and last-minute developments on the final day of session:

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

One last-minute addition was $15 million in earmarks for federal COVID-19 relief money. An amendment added to SB461 in the Assembly includes:

  • $6 million to the Collaboration Center Foundation for services for people with disabilities. Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) had proposed a bill to support the foundation, but it never got a hearing.
  • $5 million to the state treasurer’s office for the Nevada ABLE Savings Program. The program provides seed money in tax-advantaged accounts for people with disabilities; a bill passed this session to enable the program but did not fund it.
  • $4 million for a statewide program modeled after UNR’s Dean’s Future Scholars Program, which provides mentoring, tutoring and other support for prospective first-generation college students. Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) had a bill that supported first-generation students, but it died. She crossed over and supported a mining tax along with Democrats before the amendment was revealed.

— Michelle Rindels

Requiring public buildings/accommodations to have inclusive single-stall restrooms 

On a 15-6 vote, members of the Senate voted to approve Assemblywoman Sarah Peters’s AB280 — a bill requiring any single-stall restroom in the state to be designated as gender neutral.

The bill, which wouldn’t affect existing bathrooms but would govern future construction, was amended before passage to more narrowly define the types of bathrooms affected by the bill, and removed language allowing for civil litigation if people felt they were denied access to or punished for using a single-stall restroom.

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

An effort to close the ‘classic car’ loophole by limiting the types of older vehicles exempted from smog checks has passed out of the Senate on a party-line 12-9 vote.

The bill, AB349, is sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) and seeks to fix a loophole created by a 2011 law that redefined a “classic car” to include any vehicle over a certain age that drove less than 5,000 miles. It resulted in a sharp increase in the number of classic cars registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

Nevada will move to permanently expand mail voting and send all active registered voters a mail ballot starting in the 2022 election, after members of the state Senate voted along party-lines to approve AB321 on Sunday evening.

The bill will make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters will be allowed to opt out and vote in person if they choose. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, the legislation has been embraced by Democrats as a way to enshire expanded voter access to elections, but pilloried by Republicans as not having enough safeguards to prevent fraud while making what they say are unnecessary changes to the state election structure.

Though amendments to the bill still need to be agreed to by the Assembly, passage of the bill will largely cement the pandemic-induced temporary election changes used in the 2020 election as a permanent fixture of elections moving forward.

The bill does modify aspects of the rules in place for the 2020 election, including shortening the deadlines for fixing issues with signatures on mail ballots and for when a mail ballot can be counted after Election Day from seven to six days.

It also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices in signature verification, require more training on signature verification and adopt a handful of other provisions aimed at beefing up election security measures. 

Prior to the vote in the Senate, however, lawmakers adopted an amendment explicitly authorizing the withdrawal of initiative petitions 90 days prior to an election. That law change is intended to address a lack of clarity in existing law about when a ballot initiative can be withdrawn and is intended to give the Clark County Education Association a chance to pull back two initiatives raising the sales and gaming taxes.

Another amendment, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer, sought to require statewide elected offices including the attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller to follow the same fundraising blackout rules that members of the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor are required to follow during legislative sessions. But the amendment failed on a 10-11 vote, with all Democrats save Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) voting against the measure.

The bill appropriates about $12.1 million to the secretary of state’s office over the budget cycle to help with costs of the legislation.

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

Senators voted 17-3, with one abstention, to authorize cannabis consumption lounges where people can legally consume marijuana after a similar effort failed in the last session.

AB341, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), aims to resolve the conundrum that recreational cannabis is legal in Nevada, but consumers are technically not allowed to partake of it anywhere outside of a private residence. It also has been framed as a way to diversify the ownership of Nevada’s relatively homogenous cannabis industry by offering certain incentives to applicants who were adversely affected by the War on Drugs.

Before passing the measure, senators added an amendment that allows local governments to establish rules for the businesses that are stricter than the statewide regulations.

Republican Sen. Ira Hansen and two Democrats — Sen. Dina Neal and Sen. Fabian Donate — voted against the measure. Donate said that while he supports the concept, he had public health-related concerns including about how employees would be protected from secondhand smoke.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) abstained because his wife is a member of the Cannabis Compliance Board.

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

Senators voted 15-6 for a bill from Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) that subjects short-term rentals such as Airbnb to the taxes that hotels face and other regulations.

Opponents of AB363 were all Republicans, including Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who said that while he wants to combat the nuisance of illicit “party houses,” he thinks land use planning “is fundamentally a local issue.”

“I certainly understand the impetus to do this,” Pickard said. “The reason, however, that I can't go far enough to support this bill is because I believe that it's an intrusion into the proper operation of local government.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) has pointed to taxation of vacation rentals as a route for bringing more revenue to schools.

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

An amendment added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) during an Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting Monday evening proved that nothing is truly dead until the clock strikes midnight on sine die.

The amendment, attached to SB347, revives AB213, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) that died before it received a vote on the Assembly floor because of a concern over a 5 percent allocation from a grant program for creating an alternative to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Flores told The Nevada Independent during a short interview that the proposed amendment removed the 5 percent allocation, stipulating instead that an alternative to the FAFSA program could be established as money is available.

"I'm excited that we at least have accomplished the step of getting it to the floor," Flores said. "The bill is sending a very clear message that regardless of status, so long as you graduate you're going to get in-state tuition."

The amendment would remove de facto citizenship requirements for higher education scholarship programs and secure access to in-state tuition for any graduate of a Nevada high school.

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

  • Removing the requirement to complete the FAFSA, which requires a Social Security number, in order to receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant (a state-support financial aid program for low-income students attending community or state colleges within the Nevada System of Higher Education)
  • Guaranteeing that any graduate from a high school in the state can receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant or a Nevada Promise Scholarship (a scholarship for Nevada high school graduates attending community college)
  • Eliminating a rule that the Board of Regents must distribute scholarships first to students who complete the FAFSA
  • Prohibiting a prepaid tuition program or college savings program from excluding a person or his or her family from participating in the program based solely on immigration status.

Access is at the heart of the amendment, Flores said, adding that the measure will lower barriers to higher education and address fears brought about by the college application process and having to share information regarding immigration status.

“An undocumented student has these added layers to be able to pay for college that ... a lot of other students don't have to go through,” Flores said. “So that it's often a deterrent for a lot of very highly talented,qualified students.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

A bill that will allocate half a million to the UNLV Immigration Clinic’s work defending people against deportation got a party-line vote in the Senate, with Republicans opposed.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would create a “Keeping Nevada Working Task Force” to support immigrant entrepreneurship as well as making the appropriation.

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said he opposed a provision that requires the attorney general to develop model policies that seek to limit the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Agencies must report back whether they adopt the policies.

“The standards that are to be developed by the attorney general and then imposed upon ... all other areas of the state, I think, are inappropriate,” he said.

The bill was significantly watered down from its original form, which directly called for limiting collaboration between police and federal immigration enforcement officials.

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

State lawmakers advanced the Legislature’s marquee clean energy bill, SB448, on a 32-10 vote on Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), will clear the way for completion of a major intrastate transmission line sought by NV Energy as part of the utility company’s planned $2 billion transmission infrastructure upgrade project. It will also require the utility to invest $100 million in electric vehicle charging stations, and makes a host of other energy policy changes aimed at boosting carbon reduction efforts in the state.

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

Members of the Senate passed out an energy efficiency measure, AB383, on a party-line vote on Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), sets minimum energy efficiency levels for certain residential and commercial appliances and products, ranging from water coolers and air purifiers, to commercial fryers and ovens.

During a bill hearing in April, Watts said that less energy expended would result in less pollution and that using more efficient appliances and devices could also mean lower utility bills. The standards set in the bill would not apply to appliances sold after the bills goes into effect until July 2023, giving manufacturers time to adjust to the new regulations.

Previously, the bill passed out of the Assembly on a 26-13 party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

Members of the Senate voted 18-3 to approve a bill from Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) overhauling the interim structure of the Legislature to match the committee structure used during 120-day sessions.

Rather than the current slew of more than a dozen interim committees, AB448 would repeal and replace almost all of them with interim joint standing committees, a change aimed at increasing continuity and policy expertise between legislative sessions.

Not all of the old interim committees are going away — the bill was amended on Friday, shortly before passing out of the Assembly, to revive an existing Legislative Committee on Public Lands to now serve under a joint interim subcommittee on natural resources.

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

After four failed attempts in prior sessions, AB116, a bill decriminalizing traffic tickets, cleared the Legislature with a 20-1 vote in the Senate. 

The bill would make traffic violations civil infractions and not punishable by jail time. It adjusts current practice where, if unpaid, minor traffic offenses become warrants that can lead to arrests and are punishable by up to six months in jail. 

Although Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said he is in support of the policy behind the bill, he was the only senator to vote against the measure for certain concerns regarding rural counties’ ability to implement it. 

“This is the fifth session that I can think of where we've attempted to do this, so it's definitely a step in the right direction,” Hansen said. “But we need to keep in mind there's some very small counties with very limited budgets and for them to be able to implement this is going to be very, very difficult.”

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

The Senate voted 15-6 to pass AB126, which would end Nevada’s presidential caucus and replace it with a primary election, and also aims to make the state first in the presidential primary calendar — ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who voted against the measure, had introduced a similar bill, SB130, this session to convert Nevada from caucus to primary but it died in April. During the Senate vote on Monday, Pickard said that as he was preparing his bill, constituents said that they would not be happy with moving the primary to the beginning of the year as campaigning efforts during December holidays may be “intrusive.”

“I was told pretty consistently by my constituents that they did not like the idea of moving the primary up to the beginning of the year because it meant that we'd be campaigning, we'd be knocking on their doors and we'd be disturbing them during the holidays,” he said. 

Six of the nine Republican senators voted against the bill, which had previously received a 30-11 vote in the Assembly.

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

With time up in the session, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Monday advanced SB461, a so-called “waterfall” bill that sets priorities for spending billions in American Rescue Plan funds. 

Many of those goals — which include backfilling the general fund to compensate for revenue loss and shoring up health care and education — were laid out months ago in a framework document released by the governor and legislative leadership.

“It's day 120, those dollars are not here, but we still know that we have priorities in the state that we want to make sure that can be addressed and that the legislature doesn't slow the process down,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas). “We don't necessarily need to come back and come together for a day or two to do, that there is a process by which we can set this up to set our priorities to allow these dollars to hit the ground running as soon as they're here.”

Carlton’s comments suggest at least some of the work of distributing the federal dollars will take place through work programs that come through the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, as opposed to a special session.

“It doesn't mean we have to do it that way. Nothing stops us from coming in and doing a special session,” she said in a subsequent interview. “But ... getting 63 of us together and queuing up this building is not a small feat ... so this is just a way to make sure that those issues are dealt with.”

In the meantime, the bill allocates $335 million of the state’s $2.7 billion allocation through the American Rescue Plan to the unemployment trust fund. That was depleted after the pandemic-related shutdowns pushed Nevada’s unemployment rate to around 30 percent.

The amount will bring the trust fund essentially to the point where it is not taking out a loan, fiscal analysts said. Following the Great Recession, employers had to pay higher tax rates for years to pay back a debt to the federal government; the allotment will ensure tax rates won’t be going up for debt service.

“This will be one of the small things that we can do to not have that one more thing added on to that bill, as everyone is trying to climb out of the pandemic and get back to square one in the future,” Carlton said. “This will be one way to lessen those impacts of the pandemic on everyone who pays into this month.”

The Treasury allows states to use American Rescue Plan money to pay back their unemployment trust funds back to pre-pandemic levels, but Nevada’s trust fund was nearly $2 billion before the pandemic — meaning the state could potentially use nearly all of its federal allocation for that purpose.

But, Carlton said, “this is a balancing act and there was a lot of harm done across the state and all different sectors and we're trying to make an impact on all of the different sectors.”

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

A feisty debate about how to repay $1-per-transaction DMV technology fees that were found to be enacted unconstitutionally has finally been resolved in the form of an amendment to another bill.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee over the weekend sparred over whether allocating $7.8 million to pay back $5 million in fees to Nevada motorists needed to be done immediately or could wait until something more cost-efficient could be worked out. Lawmakers are seeking to refund the money after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that an extension of the fee in 2019 needed to be passed on a two-thirds majority (it was one vote shy of that threshold).

They opted to add an amendment with the allocation to SB457, a bill that otherwise allows more of the state Highway Fund to be used for administrative costs and has now passed both houses.

“Last night, with time constraints and with the people digging their heels in on stuff it was like, ‘we can't wait, we have to pay for this,’” Carlton said. “This is not a political discussion. You can't make hay out of this anymore. We just need to move on and get our jobs done.”

— Michelle Rindels

Clark County gets STAR bonds exemption; A’s stadium talks nearly derail

An effort to finally phase out oft-criticized special tax districts that use a portion of sales tax for bond repayments received a last minute amendment sought by Southern Nevada governments — though lawmakers took steps to ensure that they can’t be used for a potential major league baseball stadium.

AB368, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), would require the Department of Taxation to report information on existing Tourism Improvement Districts — geographical areas where a public-private partnership is created using a portion of sales tax dollars to help finance construction and bond payments.

Those agreements, financed through Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue (STAR) bonds, were used in the mid-2000s to help finance construction of several Northern Nevada developments including Cabela's and Outlets at Legends — agreements later criticized, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, for not building in enough accountability measures into the projects.

Benitez-Thompson — who said her mother was laid off by the City of Reno after the municipality was forced to use general fund dollars to make bond payments on a STAR bonds project — submitted a conceptual amendment to the bill phasing out all language for STAR Bond tax financing, in effect sunsetting the program.

But that raised concerns from representatives of Southern Nevada local governments, who on Monday morning held an unusual back-and-forth with the six members of the conference committee on a request to exempt Clark County from the bill. Conference committees are appointed when the Assembly and Senate disagree over an amendment, but often are also used to push last-minute changes to legislation on the final day of the session.

Lobbyist Warren Hardy, representing a consortium of Southern Nevada governments, said there was interest in allowing STAR Bonds and tourism improvement districts as a potential “tool in the toolbox” for developers — including potentially the Oakland A’s, who have publicly floated moving the professional baseball team to Las Vegas.

But the idea of using STAR Bonds for a stadium rankled lawmakers on the conference committee.

“I’ve been very clear on how these things need to be done … if we’re going to do Huntridge (Theater), small nonprofit, things along that line, I think that’s where these funds really could possibly work,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said. “But if we’re talking about a stadium and trying to pay for that, I have a lot of concerns about moving forward at that level.”

After a small amount of debate, the conference committee (with the implicit blessing of Southern Nevada lobbyists) agreed to move forward on the bill with an amendment only allowing STAR Bonds to be extended in Clark County, and striking existing language that allows the bond proceeds to help pay for a professional sports stadium.

— Riley Snyder

Fire managers prepare for summer blazes as the state faces severe drought conditions

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

I’m writing this newsletter from Winnemucca. For the past month, I’ve been reporting out a story on the Thacker Pass lithium mine, which the Trump administration approved in mid-January. 

I’m getting a lot of community perspectives about the project, which would be located outside of Orovada. On Monday evening, I attended a public meeting about having the mining company relocate and rebuild the Orovada Elementary School because of safety concerns with more trucks hauling materials and driving through the area. A lot of perspectives from parents. My story should be coming out in a few weeks. In the meantime, send me any thoughts you have about the project.

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.


Nevada is facing its worst drought in two decades. 

Nearly 95 percent of the state is facing severe to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In April, most of the Great Basin experienced above-normal temperatures with little precipitation. As with much of the West, Nevada saw well below-average rain and snow for the water year, which begins in October. Snowpack peaked early, and snow is melting quickly. 

Gina McGuire Palma, a meteorologist who forecasts fire in the Great Basin, presented those statistics at a media wildfire briefing last week. The dry conditions, she said, are important for the forecasts facing fire managers as they start planning for the warm summer months.

When it comes to fire and drought in the Great Basin, the story is complicated. Although drought means less moisture, it also means that low-elevation grasses are less abundant and productive. That’s important because those low-elevation grasses fuel many of the large-scale fires across the Great Basin. The amount of acreage burned and drought are not always related in the Great Basin. But that doesn’t necessarily mean less potential for a bad fire season. 

What it means is that in a drought year, like the one we are seeing, the fire risk tends to be in mid-to-higher elevation areas, McGuire Palma said at the briefing. Another big factor is where the fire is. A smaller acreage fire in a highly-populated area or in sensitive wildlife habitat can have long-lasting effects. And there have been notable fires during drought years before. 

Prior to the media briefing, state, federal and local agencies briefed Gov. Steve Sisolak about fire risks facing the state. At the briefing, Sisolak described wildfire as “one of Nevada’s most challenging issues,” but he said agencies are “better coordinated than ever before.”

Kacey KC, the state forester for the Nevada Division of Forestry, said that better coordination is important in the Great Basin, where much of the land is managed by a variety of agencies. The federal government manages about 85 percent of land within Nevada, and one agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, manages about 65 percent.

“We learned through many years of being jurisdictionally challenged that we had to work better together,” KC said. “And we actually also realized, awhile back, that not only do we have to be highly effective at wildfire suppression, but also need to work harder at really targeting our limited resources and funding at the areas that are most critical to reduce risk in.”

In all of this, humans play a big role.

Sisolak, in his remarks, underscored the effects that climate change is having on fires: “While wildfires are a natural part of Nevada’s landscape, the fire season is starting earlier each year and ending later. Climate change and cycles of drought are considered key drivers of this trend.” 

In addition to climate change, the vast majority of fires — about 67 percent — were linked to human activity last year. Sisolak implored residents to be aware of the risks of starting a fire.

“What we can do as residents in Nevada is be aware,” Sisolak said. 

More reporting on this from KNPR and the Associated Press. And tips for preventing fires.

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:


CARSON CITY AND CONGRESS

A massive energy bill drops at the Legislature: Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) dropped a major energy infrastructure bill last week with less than three weeks left in the session, as my colleague Riley Snyder reported. The legislation, presented at a roundtable with Sisolak and NV Energy, aims to increase the state’s transmission capacity (crucial for putting more renewables on the grid) and to require more investment in charging for electric vehicles. Both are central to the governor’s climate strategy, and backers of the bill argue that it is vital in order to ensure the state plays a central role in the transition from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. 

  • Most environmental groups support the broad components of the bill: They want to see more deployment of renewable energy, and transmission is going to be an important element of that. At a hearing Monday, several groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Nevada Conservation League, came out in favor of the legislation. 
  • But some groups believe the legislation shortcuts comprehensive planning: For months, environmental groups have been pushing state agencies to identify land where energy development is appropriate and where it conflicts with other priorities, including recreation and wildlife habitat. They want to see policymakers working to prioritize new energy development, such as solar fields, on already disturbed land. The transmission lines matter, they say, because their alignment and siting often dictate where projects go. These groups want to see more comprehensive planning when it comes to building out a more renewable grid. Based on my reporting, they are not alone. Public land has many constituencies, and permitting conflicts are not limited to environmental issues.
  • There is also the question of regulatory oversight: The legislation dropped with only a few weeks left in the session. But given the presence of the utility at the unveiling of the complex bill, it is clear that it came out of negotiations between legislative leaders, NV Energy and the Sisolak administration. It’s worth noting that the Nevada Resorts Association came out in “technical opposition” because of the late bill introduction and sought changes that “retains authority and regulatory discretion to protect customers from increased rates and making projects more expensive than they need to be.”

Swamp cedar bill passes both houses: The Senate on Monday passed legislation to grant state protection to unique stands of low-elevation Rocky Mountain juniper trees in Spring Valley (known as Bahsahwahbee in Shoshone). The legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Howard Watts III (D-Las Vegas), would protect the trees, known as the swamp cedars, that stand as a sacred and spiritual place for Shoshone and Goshute communities. Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) was the only Republican senator who voted in favor of the bill, despite making remarks that questioned the accuracy of accounts of massacres that occurred at Bahsahwahbee and angering Indigenous advocates, as my colleague Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez reported.

A few pieces of legislation I’m watching as the session nears a close:

  • AB356: Banning Colorado River water from use in irrigating decorative turf
  • AB349: Ending a loophole allowing “classic cars” from evading smog rules
  • AB148: Preventing “bad actors” from getting a new mine permit
  • SCR10: Creating an interim study on hydrogen and lithium as energy sources 
  • SCR11: Creating an interim study on Sisolak’s “Innovation Zone” proposal
  • AB95: Adding an Indigenous representative to the interim public lands committee
  • AB146: Establishing a right to clean water, aims to better regulate indirect pollution 
  • SB285: Better integrating bikes into our road infrastructure
  • AB97: Creating a working group to look at “forever chemicals” known as PFAS
  • SB430: Restructuring the State Infrastructure Bank to fund climate-related projects
  • SJR1, AJR1, AJR2: The mining tax resolutions. Anything could happen. 

(This is by no means exhaustive. Let me know what I’m missing here — daniel@thenvindy.com. h/t to the Nevada Conservation League, which puts together a weekly list of bills to watch). 

Reauthorizing the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto introduced legislation last week to fund environmental protection at Lake Tahoe. The legislation has the backing of the entire Nevada delegation, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported last week.


WATER AND LAND

“We’re going to have one of the lowest runoffs that we’ve seen:” SFGATE’s Julie Brown writes about low elevations at Tahoe, with an interview from the Truckee River Water Master. 

Diving to clean-up Lake Tahoe trash: “A team of scuba divers on Friday completed the first dive of a massive, six-month effort to rid the popular Lake Tahoe of fishing rods, tires, aluminum cans, beer bottles and other trash accumulating underwater,” the Associated Press reports. 

Biden considers new sage grouse rules: Associated Press reporter Matthew Brown reported last week that the Biden administration is considering a temporary ban on new mining across certain areas of public land in the West as part of efforts to recover the imperiled Greater sage grouse, which has seen significant population declines over the last half-century. From the story: “The Interior Department review comes in response to a federal court order and is expected to cover millions of acres of sagebrush habitat considered crucial to the bird’s long-term survival.”

Tracking a federal wild horse adoption program: “...records show that instead of going to good homes, truckloads of horses were dumped at slaughter auctions as soon as their adopters got the federal money. A program intended to protect wild horses was instead subsidizing their path to destruction.” Incredible reporting from the New York Times’ Dave Philipps.

Federal regulators to rule on Tiehm’s buckwheat: “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to make a determination on the listing of a rare Nevada wildflower as an endangered species by the end of the month,” reports Jeniffer Solis with the Nevada Current.

Water data is as important as ever: An example from California. 

For the mappers out there: A new, peer-reviewed Colorado River map is out. 

For the mappers out there (Part II): What is a summit? Great New York Times piece.

ENERGY AND CLIMATE

Google’s big geothermal announcement: Google is partnering with energy startup Fervo to develop a “next-generation geothermal project” that would help the company power its data centers and infrastructure in Nevada. Fervo expects to begin adding geothermal energy to the Nevada grid in 2022, according to a Google blog post, and the company views the project as a crucial part in its transition toward meeting its “moonshot” carbon-free energy goals by 2030.

  • From Google’s blog post: “Not only does this Fervo project bring our data centers in Nevada closer to round-the-clock clean energy, but it also acts as a proof-of-concept to show how firm clean energy sources such as next-generation geothermal could eventually help replace carbon-emitting power sources around the world.” 
  • “Next-gen:” In the blog post, the project is referred to as “next-generation” geothermal, distinguished from conventional geothermal because it uses advanced drilling, fiber-optic sensing and data analytics (the press release mentions AI and machine learning). But the project appears to be one step in the company’s larger plan to make geothermal more viable. At a keynote for Google I/O, an annual developer conference, CEO Sundar Pichai said geothermal “is not widely used today, and we want to change that.” 
  • That last quote is a big deal: As I’ve written in this newsletter before, developers have long seen an opening to deploy more geothermal, and Nevada is uniquely positioned. It has expertise, with a top geothermal developer headquartered here, and according to the U.S. Geological Survey, high potential for more geothermal development. Having a major company make a high-profile investment in geothermal is pretty significant.

Bury power lines? News 4-Fox 11’s Ben Margiott asked a top NV Energy executive.

An important utility debate is brewing: Los Angeles Times reporter Sammy Roth writes about a national debate over whether utilities should be allowed to charge their ratepayers for trade association fees, especially when those trade associations engage in advocacy activities. 

Massive clean energy bill expanding transmission, electric car charging stations gets first hearing; resorts opposed

Heralded as a transformative step to move Nevada toward greatly reduced carbon emissions through massive expansions in transmission and electric vehicle infrastructure, state lawmakers heard the first details of the legislative session’s biggest energy policy bill with just two weeks to go before the end of session.

Sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), SB448 would expand the state’s transmission infrastructure in line with NV Energy’s multibillion-dollar Greenlink Nevada initiative, along with requiring a $100 million investment in electric vehicle charging stations, expanding rooftop solar to multi-tenant and commercial buildings and proposing a host of other measures aimed at lowering carbon emissions and building up renewable energy infrastructure.

During the bill’s first multi-hour hearing on Monday in the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee, lawmakers and clean energy advocates were not shy about pouring praise on the legislation — ranging from NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon saying the bill “positions Nevada as energy leader in the western United States for decades to come” to Governor’s Office of Economic Development Director Michael Brown saying “448 will be one of those bill numbers that lives beyond legislative sessions.”

Support was not unanimous — several progressive and environmental groups warned that a large infrastructure project could harm fragile ecosystems, and the politically powerful Nevada Resort Association (which represents many casino resorts that have left regular utility service but remain as transmission-only customers) testified in opposition, wanting the state’s Public Utilities Commission to have more authority over the transmission build-out.

Brooks, who sponsored legislation raising the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2019 and 2017, said those bills and past efforts were helpful first steps but that this legislation represented an attempt to “take a more holistic approach at carbon reduction planning for the electricity sector.”

“Imagine a world where in Nevada, we are making most of our own electricity with renewable resources, we're putting them in our vehicles, and we're driving our vehicles,” he said. “That closes the loop and keeps billions of dollars in our economy, and also makes it far more affordable for the individual who's driving the electric vehicle.”

SB448 has two main prongs — transmission and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The transmission portions would help finish NV Energy’s proposed “Greenlink” transmission plan, which received initial, partial approval from the state Public Utilities Commission in March. The project would build two major transmission lines aimed at forming a “transmission triangle,” expanding and linking the current 235-mile, 500 megawatt “One Nevada Transmission Line” that links Northern and Southern Nevada. 

Brooks said expanded transmission capacity would not only build up grid resiliency beyond the current One Nevada line — pointing at the 2021 Texas electricity crisis as a warning — but would also allow Nevada to more cheaply import renewable energy produced in other states and help diversify the current fuel mix.

“If we just connect the dots with a few transmission lines, we could realize that economic opportunity of being the hub of the western grid, and we could realize the benefits that come with all of that energy that we can export and all that energy that we move through our state,” Brooks said. “The benefits are billions of dollars of economic activity in our state and billions of dollars of private investment in our state and renewable energy projects.”

The other major portion of the bill would require NV Energy to propose and submit a $100 million spending plan for electric vehicle charging station infrastructure over the next two years, with a strong focus on historically underserved areas, outdoor recreation, transit agencies and fleet upgrades for state, local and federal governments.

Much of the three-hour hearing focused on the transmission aspects — a wide variety of groups testified in support including IBEW; businesses including Google, Ikea, Patagonia and Uber; Battle Born Progress and clean energy development groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Nevada Conservation League and others.

Brown, who heads the state’s economic development arm, said corporations in and considering moving to Nevada were increasingly focused on renewable energy and meeting environmental goals, giving the state a potential leg up on business development if it further committed to renewable resources.

“For the first time, we sat with a manufacturer from the Midwest a few weeks ago, and they looked at us and the first question they had for us is they wanted to talk about renewable energy,” he said. “They wanted to know how we were producing it, how it was transmitted, what the prices were. That's a game changer. We've not had that before.”

Cannon, who helped present the bill, said completion of the Greenlink project would help create a “path forward for us to economically achieve the state's net zero carbon goals,” while opening up new areas for solar and renewable energy development currently cut off from transmission lines.

“We can produce energy in a lot of places in Nevada, but that doesn't do us any good if we can't get that energy from where it's produced to where it needs to be utilized,” Cannon said. “Transmission becomes the backbone that is necessary to fully utilize that energy.”

But that proposed infrastructure expansion attracted opposition from spokesmen for environmental groups including Basin and Range Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity who said they had strong concerns that the legislation allowed NV Energy to rush forward without enough time for environmental review or potential impacts.

“Instead of instructing state agencies to complete a clear-eyed, comprehensive review of where renewable energy might be appropriate in this state, SB448 would throw open the doors to our most wild and pristine landscapes and rely on the tender mercies of the market and fossil fuel companies like NV Energy to decide the fate of Nevada’s wildlands,” Center for Biological Diversity State Director Patrick Donnelly said.

Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), a former administrative attorney at the PUC, asked what would happen if the promised economic benefits don’t materialize — and how much risk was being shouldered by ratepayers.

Cannon responded that the Greenlink plan was “not a risk-free proposition,” but said the utility was prepared to move forward with the $2.5 billion infrastructure project immediately, noting that customers would not have to start paying for the project for several years and that any proposal by the utility would go through a contested hearing process before the PUC and ultimately have to be approved by the commission.

“There is no guarantee in this legislation that we will recover the dollars of this investment,” he said. “There's not. We have to proceed reasonably, and then we'll trust in the process on the back end that we have the opportunity to recover our investment and earn a reasonable return. It's kind of the regulatory compact that exists between the utility as a private entity and the state.”

But the proposed process in the bill attracted opposition from the Nevada Resort Association —  lobbyist Laura Granier said the group was in “technical opposition” because of the complexity of a bill introduced with only two weeks left in the legislative session. She said the association had proposed “clarifying changes” to the bill that would not affect the timeline but would ensure that the PUC “retains authority and regulatory discretion to protect customers from increased rates and making projects more expensive than they need to be.”

“The Commission needs the tools to keep an eye on that,” she said. “We're not saying that they shouldn't earn their return on investment, they should, but through the (Integrated Resource Planning) process they do get to recover costs.”

Both Brooks and Cannon said the bill would not have a sizable impact on utility customers — Brooks pointed to a slide showing the adoption of renewable energy increasing while average electric prices in the state had gone down. Cannon added that opening up transmission markets would help the state access lower-cost power from other areas, and that ratepayers wouldn’t see the cost of the expanded infrastructure until five or six years down the road.

NV Energy, in a filing submitted to the PUC as part of the initial Greenlink filing last month, estimated that customers in nearly all rate classes would see higher base power prices to help pay off the expansion of power lines. Cannon and others said in a previous forum on the bill that those estimates do not include potential benefits from increased transmission access.

Beyond transmission and electric vehicle charging, the bill also creates a Regional Transmission Coordination Task Force, a group of public and private industry officials tasked with helping the governor and Legislature determine the steps needed to join a western states regional transmission organization — an entity that coordinates, controls and monitors a multi-state electric grid. The legislation requires Nevada to join a regional transmission organization (RTO) by 2030, with options for the PUC to delay or waive the requirement.

The bill would also double an energy efficiency initiative for low-income customers from five to 10 percent of the utility’s overall energy efficiency plan, expand a state Renewable Energy Tax Abatement program to cover energy storage projects, reopen a discounted energy rate program that expired at the end of 2017 and require NV Energy to begin including a low carbon dioxide emission reduction plan in its triennial integrated resource plan.

Major clean energy bill expanding transmission capacity, electric vehicle charging finally introduced in Legislature

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, state lawmakers are introducing a major, complex energy bill aimed at ramping up electric transmission capacity and electric vehicle charging infrastructure as part of the effort to move Nevada to near zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The bill, SB448, was introduced Thursday in the state Senate by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), with the tacit support of Gov. Steve Sisolak and other major energy players who held a planned roundtable panel Thursday afternoon largely focused on cheerleading for provisions in the bill.

The legislation marks the latest effort by Brooks and Democratic lawmakers to further prime the pump for Nevada’s clean energy economy while moving the state away from carbon-heavy fuel sources and industries — following up on efforts in 2019 to boost the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030, and setting a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050.

“The reason I ran for office is so that I could fight climate change and I could create economic opportunities for the state of Nevada,” Brooks said during the roundtable event. “This new energy economy that we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of, in the entire United States, is one of the best ways to take care of both of those things.”

Beyond the two themes of transmission and electrification of transportation, the bill makes a host of other energy policy related changes, including expansion of tax credit programs to energy storage facilities, allowing multi-family or commercial buildings to use the state’s rooftop solar net metering program and reopening a 2013 economic development rate rider program aimed at giving new large businesses a discount on energy costs.

While many facets of the bill are likely to attract some level of support from clean energy advocates, it also could face criticism for its late introduction date and heavy-handed way of fulfilling politically powerful NV Energy’s wish to build out transmission capacity — all but ordering the state Public Utilities Commission to revisit an earlier decision that only partially granted the utility’s planned “Greenlink Nevada” transmission line upgrade.

Several clean energy groups — including Western Resource Advocates, National Resource Defense Council and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project — and northern and southern Nevada chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers issued statements supporting the bill soon after it was introduced on Thursday.

Brooks — who in a previous interview attributed the delay in the bill’s introduction to backlogs in legislative drafting — said the key to unlocking further development of expanded renewable resources and meeting the state’s lofty zero-carbon goals lies in expanding transmission capacity.

He estimated that the state was looking at billions of dollars' worth of private clean energy investment in areas not currently served by transmission lines, and said the clock was ticking before federal investment tax credits ran out and made potential projects less desirable.

“For them to be able to do that, they need to have transmission built,” he said. “And if we don't start immediately on transmission, then we will lose the opportunity to attract that investment into our state.”

Transmission

The proposed legislation will undoubtedly boost the state’s primary electric utility, NV Energy, which has over the last 18 months focused on expanding the company’s transmission capacity within the state.

The utility released initial plans for a $2 billion transmission upgrade dubbed “Greenlink Nevada” in July 2020, aimed at upgrading existing power lines between Ely and Western Nevada (centered in Yerington), and a new line between Las Vegas and Yerington. That plan would create a kind of transmission triangle, expanding on the current 235-mile, 500 megawatt “One Nevada Transmission Line” and better linking the northern and southern parts of the state.

In March, the state Public Utilities Commission granted partial approval to the “Greenlink” plan — giving the NV Energy the authority to begin permitting and construction of the “Greenlink West” line linking Reno to Yerington to Las Vegas, but only approving permitting and not construction of the other section of line, Greenlink North — in part citing concerns expressed by PUC staff and large casino resorts that the project would drive up customer costs without sufficient benefit.

Brooks said the commission’s order was correct based on the information in front of them, but that state lawmakers needed to clearly indicate that expanding transmission capacity in the state is a priority.

“It’s not the PUC’s job to encourage economic development in the state of Nevada, it's the PUC’s job to keep the lights on,” he said. “And so the argument that we need transmission, so that we can become a regional hub for transmission in the West, and so that we can attract economic activity to our state, is not necessarily the regulator's job to figure out if that's a priority.”

The legislation will require NV Energy by September 2021 to file an amendment to its most recently filed Integrated Resource Plan outlining a construction plan for high-voltage transmission infrastructure to be placed into service no later than 2029. Language in the bill prohibits the utility from including any other transmission project as part of the plan and requires any proposed construction to increase transmission import into Northern Nevada by no less than 800 megawatts — all but naming the portion of the Greenlink plan not approved by the PUC in March.

Asked about a filing made by the utility last month indicating likely cost increases for customers after approval of the Greenlink project, Brooks and NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon said the analysis did not take into account the potential benefits and cost-savings associated with opening the state up to new markets. 

“I would say to the skeptics, and maybe to those who are concerned with that, that the data doesn't necessarily support that,” Brooks said. “Yes, you have to invest in these infrastructure projects, but the benefits economic, environmental, and cost of electricity far outweigh that initial cost.”

The bill also creates a Regional Transmission Coordination Task Force, a group of 18 energy industry-adjacent members tasked with helping the governor and Legislature determine the steps needed to join a Western states regional transmission organization — an entity that coordinates, controls and monitors a multi-state electric grid. The legislation requires Nevada to join a regional transmission organization (RTO) by 2030, with options for the PUC to delay or waive the requirement.

Electric vehicle infrastructure build-out

Beyond transmission, the bill also aims to spur greater adoption of electric vehicles throughout the state through a $100 million spending plan with strong focuses on underserved communities.

Under the legislation, NV Energy would need to file a plan to “accelerate transportation electrification” by September 2021, identifying plans to invest $100 million in specific electric vehicle infrastructure build-out programs over the next two years. Those would include:

  • An Interstate Corridor Charging Depot Program focused on expanding and supplementing the Nevada Electric Highway project that has brought electric vehicle charging stations to rural communities throughout the state
  • An Urban Charging Depot Program aimed at increasing access to charging stations in metropolitan areas for customers unable to charge vehicles at home, and also serving the needs of “tourists, delivery services and businesses that require access to public charging for fleet electrification”
  • A Public Agency Electric Vehicle Charging Program to serve the needs of, and lower barriers for, electrification of state, local and federal government agency fleets
  • A Transit, School Bus and Transportation Electrification Custom Program aimed at serving the needs of transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, the Department of Transportation, public school districts and some nongovernmental commercial customers who agree to electrify significant portions of their fleets
  • An Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Program aimed at addressing charging station infrastructure needs for the tourism and outdoor recreation economies in the state.

The legislation requires that 40 percent of program expenditures over the five programs be dedicated to, or made for the benefit of, historically underserved communities — a definition that includes Census tracts where 20 percent of households are not proficient in English or qualify under a federal Housing and Urban Development definition. It also includes schools where 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, or qualified tribal land under a state definition.

Another 20 percent of the funding must be earmarked for the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism program.

The legislation also would require NV Energy to include a comprehensive transportation electrification plan in future filings before the PUC, which could include a wider range of programs and incentives than what’s called for in the initial plan.

Tenant solar

The bill also would amend existing law to allow for a concept called “tenant solar” — allowing owners of apartments, multi-family dwellings or commercial buildings to tap into the state’s net metering program for rooftop solar. A similar concept was sponsored by Brooks in the 2019 Legislature but died without a hearing.

The bill allows for net metering at those types of buildings under certain circumstances, including a requirement that the rooftop solar system be located on premises and only delivered to residents or the building itself, that individual units don’t have separate meters measuring electric use and that persons or commercial entities in the building are not charged based on volumetric use of electricity.

Energy storage and rate riders

The proposed legislation also expands an existing Renewable Energy Tax Abatement Program — which grants partial sales and use tax and property tax abatements to qualified renewable energy power plants — to also include energy storage facilities.

The Governor’s Office of Energy administers the tax abatement program, and as of December 2020 had awarded abatements to 57 projects located in Nevada. To qualify for the abatement, projects have to meet minimum investment benchmarks and pay certain wages on construction.

The bill also would re-open qualifications for the state’s Economic Development Rate Rider program, established by the Legislature in 2013 to give large businesses new to the state discounts on electric prices over a range of years. 

The original version of the program set aside 50 megawatts of capacity for applicable businesses to take advantage of, but the program closed to new participants at the end of 2017 with about half of the capacity unclaimed. The bill would set a new deadline at the end of 2024 for businesses to apply for remaining capacity left in the program.

Updated at 4:17 p.m. to include comments from Brooks and others at a roundtable hosted after this story was initially published.

Follow the Money: Energy industry donors contributed more than $400,000 to lawmakers ahead of 2021 session

Amid continuing attempts by a Democratic-led Legislature to grapple with the effects of the energy industry on the climate, a handful of Nevada’s largest energy companies shelled out more than $401,000 to legislative campaigns through the 2020 cycle. 

That total was down roughly 19 percent compared to spending in the 2018 cycle, when the industry cumulatively spent almost $500,000. The drop was largely driven by a decrease in spending from statewide utility and energy giant NV Energy, which spent about 22 percent less this cycle compared to last, a difference of more than $47,500. 

This spending came as Democrats continued to hold on to control of both chambers of the Legislature, even as they lost a handful of seats across the board. Republicans gained one seat in the 21-person Senate and another three in the 42-seat Assembly, leaving the Democratic advantage at 12-9 and 26-16, respectively. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 348 individual contributions from 15 donors fell under the umbrella of energy corporations, individuals or related PACs. 

However, two legislators are not included in this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed to legislative vacancies in February, a point at which contributions to lawmakers had already been frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

These numbers also do not include candidates who lost their race for the Legislature, and may not represent the total spent by a given donor in the last election, but rather the amount they spent on winning candidates only. 

Though the money contributed by the energy industry was largely evenly distributed across almost every single sitting legislator (only one, Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), did not report receiving energy-related contributions), legislative leaders continued to be among the biggest recipients of industry contributions. 

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) once again led the way with $28,500, followed closely by her Assembly counterpart, Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), who received $27,250. 

Three other lawmakers received sums in excess of $15,000, including Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $19,300; Sen. Chris Brooks with $19,000 and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), also with $19,000. 

Other reported totals were generally small. Six lawmakers reported between $11,250 and $10,400 in energy contributions, while the remaining 49 reported $9,750 or less. 

NV Energy, despite the spending decrease this cycle, was still by-far the largest single energy donor with more than $167,000 spread across the campaign of nearly every lawmaker elected last year. 

That money comes from an industry dominated like few others by just a handful of corporate or PAC-related interests. 

Alone, NV Energy’s sum amounts to almost 42 percent of all industry money contributed through the 2020 cycle. But combined with the next four closest donors — Southwest Gas ($124,000), Ormat Nevada ($37,500), Valley Electric Association ($28,500) and the Nevadans for Reliable, Renewable and Affordable Energy PAC ($16,000) — the share of the total contributed by the top donors alone rises to more than 93 percent of all industry contributions. 

This is explained in part because there were few energy-related donors — just 15 in total. Among them, the lowest 10 combined for less than 7 percent of overall spending, contributing a combined $27,700. 

Spread across 56 legislators, the utility’s $167,500 in spending widely favored Democrats both in the aggregate and on average. Overall, NV Energy gave a cumulative $126,000 to legislative Democrats, compared to just $41,500 for Republicans. Averaged to account for the Democrats’ numerical advantage in the Legislature, the utility still spent about 70 percent more on Democrats than Republicans, $3,500 to $2,075. 

At the top of the list of NV Energy’s contributions are Frierson and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), a longtime renewable energy advocate who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, each of whom received the $10,000 maximum.

Two other Democrats, Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), followed with $7,500 each, and the remaining 52 legislators received just $5,500 or less. 

Second only to NV Energy, Las Vegas-based utility Southwest Gas was among a handful of donors to increase its contributions in 2020 en route to spending $124,000 on 54 legislators — a jump of about 23 percent compared to 2018. 

Much of that spending went to Democrats in the aggregate, who as a group received $74,250 to the Republicans’ $49,750. However, the average Republican received slightly more than Democratic counterparts, $2,487 to $2,184. 

Much of that average difference stemmed from a $10,000 contribution to Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), the only lawmaker to see the maximum allowed amount from Southwest Gas. 

Other major recipients include Cannizzaro with $7,000, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert with $6,000 and Monroe-Moreno with $5,000. The remaining 50 lawmakers saw $4,500 or less. 

The largest of the “small” energy donors last cycle, Ormat Nevada — the Nevada subsidiary of renewables company Ormat Technologies — spent $37,500 across 45 legislators, a sharp 25 percent dip from the $50,500 it spent in 2018.

Like the rest of the industry, Ormat’s donations — though generally small — still favored Democrats in the aggregate. Democrats combined to receive $26,000 to the Republicans’ $11,500, or a difference on average of $897 for Democrats and $719 for Republicans. 

Unlike the major utilities, Ormat did not spend any large amounts on any single candidate, instead spreading its money in comparatively small amounts over several dozen lawmakers. 

Still, Cannizzaro and Frierson led the pack with $2,500 a piece. Four others received $1,500 — Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), Gansert and Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) — while the remaining 39 received just $1,000 or less. 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: