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.
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.
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.
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.
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 overuseare adding new stresses to the area, as National Geographic’sStefan 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.
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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com
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.
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 — firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 reporterMatthew 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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:
In early 2021, with the legislative session only a few weeks away, Scott Leedom, the director of public affairs for Southwest Gas, reached out to the city of Mesquite with two requests for Mayor Al Litman.
One was to speak at a virtual employee event extolling the benefits of natural gas, according to emails obtained by the Climate Investigations Center, a fossil fuel watchdog group. The second request was to review a draft letter that a pro-gas coalition of business and labor groups, organized by the company, was planning to send to Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Mesquite was no stranger to Nevada’s largest natural gas utility — in 2018, the state’s Public Utilities Commission authorized the company to expand service to the rural community, leading to the installation of 28 miles of natural gas pipeline serving hundreds of residential homes and businesses. Litman called it a “game-changer for Mesquite” at the time, and in an interview, he said natural gas was important for economic development. Companies wanted natural gas.
“We worked closely with them,” he said of the utility. “They’ve been a great partner to work with. To see it go the opposite direction before it really got underfoot, it’d be a disaster in our city.”
A final version of that letter, obtained through a public records request filed by The Nevada Independent, was finally sent to the Democratic governor on Feb. 21. It was signed by Litman, the mayor of Elko, six chambers of commerce, 17 trade groups and two unions (though one of the unions, IBEW Local 1245, said it was mistakenly included as a signatory).
Over six pages, the letter advocated for continued use of the fossil fuel, and raised concerns about Sisolak’s recently adopted climate strategy, which emphasized the need to plan for a transition away from natural gas to meet the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The letter, and the groundwork that went into crafting it, reflect the gas utility’s full-court press attempt to push back against legislation — and broader policy efforts by the Sisolak administration — aimed at transitioning from natural gas to electric appliances in buildings.
Their efforts, so far, have worked.
In late March, Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) introduced legislation (AB380), modeled after Sisolak’s climate strategy, requiring gas utilities to go through a more rigorous planning process before expanding their infrastructure. But the bill, backed by environmental groups, met a groundswell of opposition and skepticism from lawmakers in both parties. It failed to advance past a legislative committee deadline and died weeks after it was introduced.
The utility didn’t get everything it wanted. A bill proposed by Southwest Gas and carried by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro also died by that first committee deadline on April 11. The legislation (SB296) would have allowed the gas utility to replace thousands of miles of pipelines, a program that environmentalists said would cost billions and undermine the state’s efforts to address climate change.
Although Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a 2050 net-zero emissions goal two years ago, the two pieces of legislation — and the debates around them — show that tensions remain in the party (which controls both the legislative and executive branches) over how to best move forward on facilitating a transition toward decarbonization.
Those tensions were exploited by Southwest Gas, which entered the 2021 Legislature knowing it was in for a fight. Beyond solidifying rural support in Mesquite and Spring Creek, a community outside Elko, Southwest Gas upped campaign contributions, built an influential coalition with affiliated interest groups and doubled its lobbying team.
Natural gas interests also made public shows of charity to minority legislative caucuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and helped orchestrate a well-coordinated media campaign defining AB380 as banning “natural gas appliances in homes and business” — a characterization that the bill’s drafters dispute.
Similar battles are playing out in statehouses across the country. As local governments have pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions, utilities like Southwest Gas have lobbied state lawmakers to preempt those efforts. Last year, Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey signed legislation, backed by Southwest Gas, prohibiting local governments from banning gas in new buildings.
Sisolak’s office did not take a position on the legislative efforts, when asked by The Nevada Independent, and officials from his administration testified in neutral on the bill. But on Friday evening, Sisolak issued a press release with statements from Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) affirming the state’s commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels.
“I appreciate the Nevada Legislature’s effort to kickstart the discussion on the issue and I believe further review by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada would be appropriate to continue it,” Sisolak said. “This transition away from carbon is already starting, and it is critical that we take a deeper look and determine how we can protect hardworking families and businesses as it continues.”
For clean energy advocates, the failure to create a planning framework for transitioning away from natural gas marks a missed opportunity for the state to make good on its goals to lower emissions. But advocates and the utility agree on one thing: The issue is not going away.
“We're going to have to make these changes if we want to meet our goals that the state has already put out there,” Cohen said in an interview after the bill died. “If we're going to get to clean power and zero greenhouse gas emissions, we're going to have to do something.”
Legislation from the state’s climate plan
The legislation that would be introduced as AB380 made its public debut with an op-ed in The Nevada Independent on Feb. 9. Cohen, a soft-spoken Henderson Democrat in her fourth term in the Assembly, published the opinion piece arguing that an orderly transition away from natural gas would save ratepayers money and protect public health.
It outlined broad plans for what would eventually become AB380 — requiring the natural gas utility file plans every three years with the state’s Public Utilities Commission to “prove that their spending plans will keep the gas system affordable and safe in a future where we use more electricity and less gas for our heating and cooking needs.”
Lauded at the time by fellow legislative and other high-ranking Democrats, the proposal was largely taken from the Sisolak administration’s climate strategy, a high-level document outlining pathways to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The legislation received backing from major environmental groups, including the Nevada Conservation League and Natural Resources Defense Council.
In one of its 17 core policies, the climate report calls for phasing out natural gas hookups in homes and businesses over the next three decades. To do so, the report calls on policymakers to plan for transition by scrutinizing new gas infrastructure, to consider requiring all-electric in new buildings and to give customers more choice to switch from gas to electric appliances.
“While Nevada’s electricity sector transitions from fossil fuels to zero-emissions renewables, the state must also transition from fossil-fuel combustion in homes and commercial buildings in the form of burning gas for cooking, hot water, and space heating,” the report states.
Such a shift would mark a departure from the state’s relationship with Southwest Gas, the investor-owned utility which has served Las Vegas and Southern Nevada since 1954. The state’s laws, environmental advocates argue, currently favor the use of natural gas appliances.
Although only a handful of municipalities (led by Berkeley, California) have taken the full step of instituting a ban on natural gas hookups and requiring electrification in new construction, many others are considering ways to plan for a future with less natural gas.
In the weeks after AB380 was introduced, environmental advocates said that acting now was necessary to avoid continued build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure, keeping the state reliant on natural gas and ratepayers on the hook for the bill.
“Responsible planning is making sure our gas utilities are spending ratepayer money wisely rather than spending customer money on construction projects that raise rates without being good ideas for the future,” said Dylan Sullivan, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Right now, even the most well-intentioned gas utility has a financial incentive to continue with old practices because they get money...by putting pipes in the ground," he added.
The gas utility’s legislative push
At the same time environmental advocates were working on writing AB380, Southwest Gas was circulating its own legislative proposal to create a statutory pipeline replacement program.
The utility’s proposal, similar to legislation that it tried to pass in 2019, would have allowed Southwest Gas to replace about 6,000 miles of vintage steel and plastic pipe, Leedom said in an interview earlier this month.
The company and a federal regulator, Leedom said, had identified the pipe materials as facing safety issues in high heat and acidic soils. Leedom said a program, in statute, was necessary to “proactively remove” older pipelines and replace them with newer infrastructure.
To introduce its legislative proposal, Southwest Gas found one of the most powerful sponsors in the legislative building: the Senate majority leader. One day before Cohen introduced AB380, Cannizzaro introduced SB296, which included the utility’s pipeline replacement program.
In the 2020 election cycle, Southwest Gas contributed $7,000 directly to Cannizzaro and $22,500 to her leadership PAC, while not donating to her Republican opponent, April Becker.
“There's an important conversation about long-term planning for gas resources happening in the Assembly, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out," Cannizzaro said in a statement after the bill was introduced. "We want to be sure that any action we take provides Nevadans with safe, reliable infrastructure and aligns (with) state climate goals."
For environmental advocates, the utility’s pipeline replacement proposal underscored the need to more closely watch how Southwest Gas spent ratepayer money on infrastructure. Where the utility saw a program to enhance safety, environmental groups saw a bill that allowed a utility to double-down on fossil fuel infrastructure with little oversight.
They said the utility should have the ability to fix leaky and unsafe pipes, but that it should be done on a case-by-case basis, considering the cost to customers. In December, Arizona’s elected utilities commission rejected a similar Southwest Gas proposal over concerns related to cost.
“It's hard to imagine that bill being a top priority in a legislative session that is focused on the economic hardship of the past year,” Sullivan said in March. “This isn't the right time for a $3.7 billion giveaway to Southwest Gas because customers can't afford to pick up the bill."
Leedom rejected arguments that the investment in new infrastructure was unnecessary.
“It’s not to harden the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s to address the safety concern, and it’s to enhance the safety and reliability to the benefit of our entire customer base.”
Both bills were the culmination of lobbying — the gas utility on one side and environmental groups on the other — that had been going on for months, and their fate foreshadows the tensions the state faces in implementing some elements of its climate strategy.
Framing a planning process as a ban
As state officials have looked at ways to meet Nevada’s 2050 climate goal, Southwest Gas has taken an active approach in working to influence the state’s policy efforts.
Before the Sisolak administration released the climate report in December, an inter-agency team working to draft the strategy held a listening session on “green buildings.” When the topic of natural gas came up, it became clear that the utility had no intention of sitting on the sidelines.
Leedom cast policies that move away from gas in buildings as “premature and problematic.” Two of the utility’s staunch defenders, AARP Nevada and the Latin Chamber of Commerce, also spoke out against such proposals, citing the outsized impact it could have on jobs, low-income ratepayers and seniors on fixed incomes.
The utility has argued that its infrastructure could be part of the solution, touting its efforts to move toward low-carbon fuels, including “renewable natural gas,” and other alternatives that could offset its carbon footprint. Southwest Gas takes issue with the climate strategy — and AB380’s — approach, which is to move toward electrifying appliances in homes and businesses.
He said the company has hired a third-party to “outline what that pathway to netzero looks like for us.”
To push back, Southwest Gas borrowed a playbook that utilities have used in other states: building a coalition of business interests casting the fossil fuel as affordable and “clean,” despite the fact that a state fact-sheet notes that gas appliances can pollute indoor air quality.
Where AB380 looked to institute a planning framework, the utility reframed it as a ban.
Danny Thompson — the former head of the Nevada AFL-CIO and a lobbyist hired by Southwest Gas this session — published an op-ed in The Nevada Independentin mid-February, writing that AB380 would kill jobs, raise costsand put more strain on the electric grid.
A few days later, Latin Chamber of Commerce President Peter Guzman (whose organization lists Southwest Gas as a major sponsor) published an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sunindirectly calling Cohen’s proposal a risky action that “will make our economy and the burden to businesses and families even worse.”
“Forcing abuelo and abuela to make a choice between medicine and groceries or heating their home affordably in the winter is unacceptable,” he wrote.
Behind the scenes, Southwest Gas was engaged in a lobbying campaign aimed at driving opinion against Cohen’s bill and solidifying its business footing in the state.
Lobbyist registration records show the utility went from three registered lobbyists in 2017 and five in 2019 to 10 in the 2021 session. Four of those are with the firm of Greenberg Traurig, including former state Senate Democratic Caucus leader Alisa Nave-Worth. Two are longtime labor lobbyists — Thompson and Gail Tuzzolo.
Cohen, the bill’s sponsor, said the “sizable push in lobbying” became more noticeable as the session went on, even while she and advocates for the bill were actively working with the opposition to try to address any concerns with the concepts in the bill.
Even before the legislative session, Southwest Gas and other allies in the natural gas and petroleum industry were working to make inroads with lawmakers.
Last year, lobbyists representing the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) — a nonprofit trade association representing the petroleum industry in six western states — donated thousands of dollars worth of gift cards to both the Nevada Black Legislative Caucus and Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus to be distributed for help with COVID-19 relief efforts undertaken by lawmakers.
Southwest Gas, along with the WSPA, were invited to give presentations to both caucuses early in the legislative session.
Heads of both of those caucuses — Assembly members Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and Daniele Monroe Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) — strenuously denied that the assistance had any effect on the eventual fate of AB380 or other natural gas legislation.
Donations made by the trade group benefited a grocery delivery service for COVID-19 positive individuals arranged by the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, and those made to the Black caucus helped purchase personal protective equipment and food at a senior living facility.
“Western States Petroleum helped us, local grocery stores helped us, churches helped us, nonprofits helped us,” Monroe Moreno said. “So if they want to draw a line, there’s going to be a whole bunch of lines drawn. There was a lot of need that was going on, and they were one of the companies that stepped up.”
Cohen said that the utility’s messaging was inaccurate, but nonetheless struck a chord with members of the public, lawmakers and interest groups concerned about potentially losing natural gas access or stoves in their own homes.
“For all those people who call and say ‘What's going on?’ and I can respond to it, I can't respond to everyone who's been to a website and gets incorrect information, and have the conversation to put them at ease,” she said. “So it definitely is difficult to respond to that when there is fear that is fueled by incorrect information.”
One hearing, many revisions
The final version of what was to become AB380 underwent several changes before it was ever heard in a legislative committee on April 6.
An initial version of the bill obtained by The Nevada Independent had three main components. It repealed a section of state law authorizing the expansion of natural gas infrastructure if it related to economic development, required the utility to submit an infrastructure plan to regulators that weighed decarbonization and set a state policy to gradually reduce greenhouse gas emissions from “combustible fuels” to 95 percent of 2016 levels by 2050.
After feedback from Southwest Gas and other groups, a conceptual, final amendment removed all references to the gradual emission reduction targets and many of the specific requirements for plans required to be filed with the PUC. Still, the legislation required the utility to undergo a comprehensive planning process meant to prepare for a future where more appliances got their energy from the electrical grid, not gas pipelines.
The final version of the legislation also sought to address equity concerns. It would have required regulators to investigate “strategies to limit the impact of a transition from the use of gas in buildings on low income households and historically underserved communities, including, without limitation, such persons who rent or lease their residence.”
“We did a lot of work with the stakeholders, the gas utility, labor, and there were lots of meetings,” Cohen said. “We substantially amended the bill, taking their concerns in mind, things that we didn't necessarily think said or would do what they said they were concerned with, but we still took it out and made modifications. They still were against it.”
Even as amended, Leedom said “the bill was not a neutral natural gas study or planning bill.” He argued that the legislation pre-supposed that electrification was the best approach forward.
During a more than two-hour hearing before the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month, lawmakers raised concerns about the amended version of AB380, echoing many of the arguments made by the natural gas utility and the coalition opposing the bill.
The coalition had repeatedly argued that the effects of AB380 would disproportionately affect communities of colors, seniors and low-income households.
At the hearing, Southwest Gas CEO John Hester said the utility is “fully supportive of taking efforts in energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we are also very concerned about the needs of our customers here in Nevada.”
Environmentalists and AB380 supporters argue that the pro-gas messaging ignores the health impacts of natural gas, the climate strategy and distorts the bill’s language, which specifically sought to ensure that there was an equitable transition for low-income households.
“It is absurd that they are weaponizing equity amidst a climate crisis,” Elspeth DiMarzio, an organizer with the Sierra Club, said in an interview last week. “Responsible energy planning was about making sure there was a plan to protect low-income communities down the road.”
Cinthia Moore, an organizer for pro-clean energy group EcoMadres, said the rhetoric at the hearing largely ignored the public health consequences of burning natural gas, noting that Latinos are more likely to suffer asthma attacks than white counterparts.
She said she understood the concerns legislators expressed, “but it’s important to have conversations with our communities about how we are moving away from the usage of natural gas and more toward electric — and it’s going to require a lot of work.”
“I don’t see it as a ban,” she said of AB380.
Environmental groups also stress the cost of inaction. If there is no planning process in place, the natural gas utility could be permitted to continue expanding, leaving ratepayers on the hook for the costs of more fossil fuel infrastructure, even as the economy moves toward decarbonization.
This is an argument that won buy-in from the state’ Consumer Advocate, Ernest Figueroa, who works within the attorney general’s office and represents ratepayers before utility regulators.
“If the policy of the state, as outlined in the governor’s climate initiative, is to eventually transition away from the use of natural gas by 2050, then it is imperative, for economic reasons, that natural gas resource planning be implemented so that natural gas utility customers are not left with billions of dollars in stranded assets when that time comes,” he said during the hearing.
The bill was heard just four days before the deadline for first committee passage, and was at one point scheduled for a committee vote, but it was later removed from the agenda.
In an interview, Monroe Moreno said she “didn’t have the votes to make it out of committee.”
SB296, backed by the gas utility, experienced a similar fate. Cannizzaro’s bill did not even get a committee hearing, a rare occurrence for legislation proposed by leadership.
“Just like so many things in this building, sometimes you can't exactly get to the right policy place,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “There were just a lot of concerns that we couldn't quite...I don't know. So that one didn't make it.”
Cannizzaro was more direct in the press release Sisolak released on Friday evening.
“We are committed to taking action that supports the state’s Climate Strategy and puts us on track to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals,” she said. “While we simply didn’t have the time for some of these tough, complex discussions this Legislative Session, it’s critical that we look at what the future will bring and prepare ourselves so that no Nevadan is left behind."
Frierson, as the Democratic leader of the Assembly, echoed the sentiment.
“As we know, the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to our legislative process, making it a difficult environment for robust discussion and debate,” Frierson said in a statement released through Sisolak’s office. “And while some bills related to acting on climate change did not move forward this session, we no less remain committed to addressing the climate crisis and will continue to push Nevada to be a leader in the clean energy economy.
Setting the stage
Litman, the mayor of Mesquite, said he was glad to see AB380 die in committee.
He believes that “natural gas is still the future for our community” and argued that cars are far more polluting. But he also said he recognizes that the issue is not going away anytime soon.
The state, he argued, is simply not ready for the transition contemplated in AB380.
“But it will be back,” he said. “I guarantee you that.”
Leedom said he expected the legislation to come back, too.
“This isn’t the last time we’ll see electrification policies in the state,” Leedom said in an interview last week. “But again, we stand ready with the state and with other stakeholders to outline what an alternative path to a decarbonized future looks like.”
The Sisolak administration did not take a formal position on AB380, and a spokesperson for the governor said his office did not send a formal response to the pro-gas coalition letter. It was not until Friday evening that Sisolak released a public statement on the legislation.
Still, the administration has continued to stress the long-term need to transition buildings from natural gas. At the hearing for AB380, two state officials noted that AB380 was consistent with the climate strategy and appeared to rebut some of the gas utility’s claims.
The Nevada Climate Initiative also put out a fact-sheet in March, emphasizing the fact that methane gas contributes to global climate change and can cause indoor health problems.
At the hearing, David Bobzien, who directs the Governor’s Office of Energy, said the state is willing to work with the company on alternatives, but he also noted that while there is some potential in low-carbon fuel alternatives like green hydrogen, there are some major limitations.
In past interviews, he has noted the need for a long-term transition toward electric appliances.
For years, environmental groups have focused on pushing the state’s largest electric utility, NV Energy, to move toward a more renewable portfolio. They are continuing to do so, but they also plan to engage more on natural gas issues, including outside of the Legislature.
DiMarzio said environmental groups can also do more to educate the public on natural gas.
“We need to be really clear that natural gas is a fossil fuel,” DiMarzio said. “It is methane. It is bad for the environment. And it is bad for indoor air quality and health. There's a lot of education that needs to be done because natural gas is not natural at all."
Update: This story was updated on April 19, 2021 to include more information. The coalition letter referenced in this story, obtained through a public records request, includes IBEW Local 1245 as a signatory. A representative from IBEW Local 1245 clarified that the union was listed on the coalition letter in error.
Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.
Friday was a major deadline day at the Legislature, and hundreds of bills failed to make it out of committee. They are effectively dead (though nothing is actually dead until the end of session). This week, the newsletter is looking at what environmental bills died and what bills are still alive.
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 email@example.com
Natural gas legislation, efficiency bills die on deadline day: Two closely watched pieces of natural gas legislation failed to make it out of committee. The first bill, AB380, was aimed at requiring natural gas utilities undergo more rigorous resource planning, an effort to align the utility’s infrastructure investment with the state’s climate goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
SB296, backed by Southwest Gas, sought to harden the utility’s infrastructure by establishing a pipeline replacement program. The legislation from Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) did not get a hearing and was not given a special exemption to move forward.
Why did these bills die so early in the session? I’m working on a piece with my colleague Riley Snyder about what happened and the gas utility’s lobbying efforts around the bills.
Mining oversight bill moves forward as regulatory reorganization stalls: The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources advanced AB148. The bill seeks to prevent so-called “bad actors” — companies or executives with a track-record of not meeting mine-cleanup obligations — from doing business in Nevada. Another bill, AB240, seeking to dissolve the Nevada Division of Minerals by splitting up its regulatory and advocacy roles, did not advance out of committee.
State’s water bills: Several proposed bills backed by the state’s Division of Water Resources died before the Friday deadline. SB155, legislation to change the requirements for Nevada’s top water regulator, the state engineer, did not advance past a key Senate committee. Similarly, two controversial proposals died, at least in their original form. AB354, legislation to create “water banks,” did not make it out of a committee after conservationists and rural interests argued that the proposal could lead to speculation and was not specific to Nevada water issues. Companion legislation, AB356, passed, but was amended with a largely unrelated conservation proposal backed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Its proposal seeks to remove unused turf.
There are still many bills to keep watching (this is by no means an exhaustive list):
Water legislation: An amended version of AB146, which passed out of committee on Friday, seeks to better manage water quality issues arising from indirect pollution. It also declares the state’s policy to a right to clean water. AB97 seeks to require regulators to form a working group to look at PFAS, often called “forever chemicals.” And of course, there’s the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s bill (AB356). It’s going to be interesting to watch how it is received in Carson City, in Las Vegas and in the Colorado River Basin.
Energy/Emissions legislation:AB349 seeks to close the “classic car” loophole, which allows cars that are not, by most reasonable definitions, “classic” to evade regulations for tailpipe emissions. Another bill, AB383, looks to direct the state to adopt energy efficiency standards for appliances. And while most bills have been introduced at this point, Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) could still offer an omnibus clean energy bill.
Mining resolutions: Lawmakers could still consider three resolutions to raise taxes on mining (AJR1, AJR2, SJR1), first passed during the special session over the summer.
Land and conservation legislation: AB171 aims to make it the state’s policy to protect stands of swamp cedars, geographically isolated populations of Rocky Mountain juniper trees that are sacred for Indigenous communities in the Great Basin (our story on the bill from March). And SB52 looks to create a program for awarding dark sky designations.
WATER AND LAND
State senator raises concerns about hedge fund’s water marketing proposal: Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) said last week that he is concerned about a hedge fund’s proposal to market water in Humboldt County, Nevada Newsmakers’ Ray Hagar reports. Last summer, we co-published a three-part series on concerns about the hedge fund’s activities across the West.
The push to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat: Tiehm’s buckwheat, a rare plant that is threatened by proposed lithium mining outside Tonopah, has been targeted for special protection, according to new documents reported by Scott Sonner with the Associated Press. The records show that state and federal officials, recognizing the threats to the buckwheat, found only on a small stretch of land in Nevada, considered measures to conserve its habitat.
Restoring a wetland where few remain: Amy Alonzo, with the Reno Gazette Journal, reports on wetland restoration in southeast Reno — with sobering statistics about the loss of wetlands.
Coming up in the Supreme Court: A newly formed Supreme Court commission to study water law in Nevada plans to have its first meeting on April 16, the court announced this week.
What I’m reading: The Atlantic published a powerful essay by David Treuer making the case for returning the stewardship of the national parks to Indigenous communities. Weaving history with our present moment, the essay is worth spending time with. “We live in a time of historical reconsideration, as more and more people recognize that the sins of the past still haunt the present,” Treuer writes. “For Native Americans, there can be no better remedy for the theft of land than land. And for us, no lands are as spiritually significant as the national parks.”
What the snow tells us about intensifying drought: Across the West, the snowpack holds much-needed water for ecosystems, irrigators and communities. The timing of when that snow melts is critical. As the climate changes, the timing is changing, with significant ramifications. InsideClimateNews reporters Bob Berwyn and Judy Fahys look at what research tells us about the effects of longer dry spells and earlier snowmelt. One quote that stood out: “We’ve grown up in a world in which snowpack has been a reliable reservoir, but it’s not that way anymore.”
ENERGY AND MINING
Deseret News’ Sofia Jeremias writes an in-depth pieceabout the Thacker Pass lithium mine. “In Nevada, mining has a long legacy of offering economic opportunity, giving it an influential voice among policymakers eager to accommodate the industry’s interests,” Jeremias writes. “It appears that may remain the case when it comes to mining the state’s lithium resources.”
Hundreds of bills bit the dust on Friday, a deadline by which proposals needed to advance from their first committee or die, unless they have a special exemption.
Friday’s deadline day proved busy, with lawmakers passing out close to 120 bills or resolutions through marathon committee hearings, including measures abolishing capital punishment, imposing more gun control, allowing physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to people with terminal illness and many others.
But when the frantic, all-day rush of virtual committee meetings finally ended, more than 280 measures had failed to meet the deadline — nearly a third of the roughly 925 bills and resolutions introduced so far this session. Casualties included a host of affordable housing measures, ticket taxes on major sports teams, paying inmates the minimum wage, Republican-backed election bills and a bevy of other dashed legislative dreams.
While the concepts could always reemerge as amendments to other bills or entirely new legislation in the remaining 52 days of the session, here’s a look at some of the ideas that appear to be in the legislative graveyard.
Raiders included in ticket tax
Tickets for Raiders and Golden Knights home games are exempt from a 9 percent Live Entertainment Tax on tickets, but an effort to bring them into the fold appears to be dead.
Sen. Dina Neal said she sponsored SB367 to create parity between those teams and other live events such as Cirque du Soleil shows. She said she doesn’t see a policy reason for the loophole, and argued it would only get harder to impose the tax on the teams’ tickets in the future as they started bringing in even more revenue.
But representatives from the teams argued that axing the exemption would violate the agreement on which the teams based their original moves to Nevada. They also speculated that subjecting teams to the tax would discourage more from relocating to the state.
More teeth in the public records act
In spite of a last-minute push from open government advocates, a bill to stiffen penalties for government agencies that violate the Nevada Public Records Act failed to survive the deadline.
The measure, AB276 from Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas), would have allowed records requestors who prevail in a lawsuit be awarded twice the cost of their lawsuit. Local governments fiercely resisted the push, saying it would invite lawsuits.
"Even though this is disappointment ... I'm going to continue during my time here in the Legislature to continue to fight for that principle ... to make sure that our government is as open and accountable to the people as possible," Matthews said in an interview.
Minimum wage for inmates
Lawmakers failed to advance SB140, a bill from Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would have required the state pay minimum wage to inmates.
During a hearing, former inmates testified that they sometimes made a dollar for an hour or even an entire day of work.
The bill also aimed to put inmates on a more solid footing ahead of their release. It would have limited deduction from prisoners’ wages to just family support and victim restitution and created an Offenders’ Release Fund so wages earned behind bars could be used when they leave.
COVID rule-free zones
A proposal to designate special zones within businesses for people who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID to mingle unbothered by government COVID-prevention rules failed to gain traction in the Legislature. The bill, SB323, was sponsored by Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden).
The Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) brought forward SB10 to address local government shortfalls stemming from unexpected dips in property tax revenues.
Under current law, property taxes are capped at a certain percentage, with the goal of protecting property tax payers from burdensome increases year-over-year. Those caps can vary between zero and 3 percent for residential and zero and 8 percent for non-residential properties. The bill would have removed the ability for caps to drop below 3 percent and place a ceiling of 8 percent on tax caps for non-residential properties.
Opponents criticized the measure as an overstep of government authority in the wake of an economically devastating pandemic.
Three bills vehemently opposed by developers and development authorities quietly faded away after their first hearings.
Lauded by supporters as an opportunity to better understand Nevada’s rental market and take aim at bad-actor landlords, AB332, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), would have required the Housing Division of the Department of Business and Industry to establish a landlord registry containing a landlord's first and last name, information on rental units the landlord owns and rent prices.
AB331 and AB334, aimed at giving local governments the ability to raise money to support affordable housing projects, received heavy pushback from developers who said that the legislation would increase developers' fees and further negatively affect the market.
AB334, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shondra Summers Armstrong (D-Las Vegas), would have given local governments the option to require developers to follow inclusionary zoning policies. That means stipulating that a certain percentage of new construction has to be affordable for low-income households — or developers must pay a fee to avoid those requirements.
The bill would also have given municipalities the option to adopt fees referred to as linkage fees, ranging from $0.75 to $10 for each square foot of commercial or residential development.
Democratic Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola's AB331 asked larger cities and counties to establish five-year goals for preserving and producing affordable housing.
The bill, AB380, was heavily opposed by Southwest Gas and allies who claimed the bill would effectively end residential and commercial use of natural gas in the state.
Another bill requiring NV Energy to make a greater investment in energy efficiency programs, SB382, also failed to make it past the deadline. NV Energy opposed the bill, and said advocates should go through other avenues at the state Public Utilities Commission to accomplish their goals.
Bemoaned by development authorities, the bill would have limited the Governor's Office of Economic Development's suite of tax incentives and required that businesses receiving tax incentives make payments into a state fund for affordable housing.
It marked the latest effort by Benitez-Thompson and other legislative Democrats to improve the state's at-times criticized collection of incentives and abatements to businesses that meet certain capital investment, job creation or minimum hourly wage targets. Former Gov. Brian Sandoval set up most of the incentive programs, but some Democrats (and at times, Gov. Steve Sisolak) have criticized the office for being too generous with abatements.
Republican election bills fall flat
Entering the 2021 session, many Republican lawmakers said that one of their top priorities would be to shore up election security and undo many of the mail voting changes implemented ahead of the 2020 election.
But after Friday, the vast majority of those proposals lay in the scrap heap, with most not even receiving a hearing.
The casualties were numerous In the Assembly and included bills repealing expanded mail voting (AB134), requiring proof of identity before voting (AB137, AB163), requiring the registrar of voters in major counties be elected (AB297), and a proposal amending the Constitution to require the Legislature and not the Supreme Court canvass the vote (AJR13).
In the Senate, Republican-backed election bills not receiving a committee vote before the deadline included measures implementing voter ID requirements and ending ballot collection from non-family members (SB225), as well as a bill expanding mail-in voting but limiting deadlines more stringently than what Democratic lawmakers have proposed (SB301).
Right to repair
A “right to repair” bill that would have made it easier for independent repair shops to fix phones and laptops failed to make it past the deadline.
AB221, from Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would have required manufacturers produce documentation and the parts and tools necessary to diagnose, maintain and repair electronic devices with values ranging from $100 to $5,000.
While environmentalists praised it as a way to reduce waste in landfills, technology companies argued it could create privacy risks and that an independent repair shop could do serious damage to a device even under the bill’s specifications.
Community college system
Even though the concept of breaking the Nevada System of Higher Education into two entities earned a mention in the governor’s State of the State address in January, a bill to carry out the concept never got a hearing.
Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) had carried the bill, SB321, that proposed a Nevada System of Community Colleges governed separately from the state’s universities.
Curbing governor’s emergency powers
Republicans were largely unsuccessful in their efforts to curb the governor’s emergency powers. AB93 and AB373, both of which would have made disaster declarations terminate after 15 days unless the Legislature extends them, failed to get hearings.
Members of the GOP have chafed against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s current state of emergency, which has lasted for more than a year.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature did not entertain AB176, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) that would prohibits a doctor from performing an abortion on a minor until 48 hours after her parents or guardians were served a notice of the procedure in person or through certified mail.
Permanent Daylight Savings Time
A bill that would do away with sleep-disrupting time changes never got a hearing this session. SB153 from Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) would have called for Nevada to stay on Daylight Savings Time year-round, although it was contingent on the state of California enacting similar legislation.