Nevada wants to become a national leader in clean energy, but some activists are worried about what might be sacrificed along the way.
The problem of green politics, which is not so green or not-just-fair, has become a familiar problem in Nevada. Lithium mining helps electric vehicles but can damage Indigenous communities close, creating ‘sacrificial zones’. Clark County Lands Bill would appoint millions of acres for conservation, but would also massively expand urban expansion and development, shifting resources further away from older suburbs.
The latest in a series of complex environmental policies and opposition from conservationists is a major energy bill signed by board member Steve Sisolak on Thursday.
Senate Bill 448, A massive total bill backed by state Senator Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) was heard and approved during the last two weeks of the session.
The law has two essential parts: the charging of electric vehicles and the transmission.
The law obliges NV Energy to spend $ 100 million to expand its electric vehicle charging infrastructure over the next three years, 40% of which must go to “historically under-served communities”. More significantly, NV Energy is expanding power lines – power cables that carry electricity over long distances – with a promise to attract economic investment to the state and create jobs. Transmission lines take electricity where it does not currently exist, so it is hoped that attractive private capital will pay to use the electricity.
The total cost is about $ 2.5 billion, NV Energy President Doug Cannon told lawmakers at the committee meeting. NV Energy is responsible for the costs, but the law allows the company to charge reasonable and prudent costs for the prices charged to customers.
Among other provisions, the law will also increase the share of energy efficiency programs for low-income households from 5% to 10% and create a working group to discuss joining the interconnected regional transmission network on the West Coast.
Namely, billing regulations are progressive but potentially irrelevant in practice to these communities, some proponents say. However, the broadcast regulations do not attempt to appear progressive, but they can be very consequential.
Expanding the charging of electric vehicles is specifically a matter of law, and 40% is reserved for settling in or otherwise benefiting disabled communities.
This section proved popular with many democratic legislators and some progressive groups, such as the struggling progress that supported the bill. U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm praised this part during her visit to Nevada last week, saying it concerns the most vulnerable groups to climate change.
Chispa, the Latino organizer program for the League of Conservation Voters, worked with Brooks to increase the language of underserved communities.
“This is a really good first step to address how disproportionate impact on communities, especially colors,” said Rudy Zamora, program director at Chispa Nevada. “This will allow us to ensure that we see these investments in our neighborhood and that we are moving towards a clean energy economy and a future.”
Brooks said expanding the charging infrastructure will motivate more people to buy cheaper electric cars. (Some information predicts that they will cost the same as petrol cars in five years.)
Lack of charging capacity, Brooks said in an interview, is a “primary hurdle” that prevents many Nevada owners from owning electric vehicles.
Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas), an expert, wondered at the committee meeting the additional obstacles: “We need the opportunity for people in these communities to own these vehicles, not just charging stations in the neighborhood.”
Chispa suggested a language that would have helped underemployed people afford electric cars, Zamora said, “but unfortunately it was something the state doesn’t have funding for at the moment.”
The U.S. Federal Employment Plan, President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act, includes incentives purchase of electric vehicles, but its passage is not guaranteed.
Ian Bigley, organizer of the Nevada Progressive Leadership Alliance, said in an interview that focusing on solo cars is misleading in itself, and he would have liked the bill to prioritize public transportation, which would benefit these communities the most.
Patrick Donnelly, director of the Nevada State Center for Biodiversity, suspects that some groups supported the bill because they liked the regulations on electric vehicles and the focus on underrepresented communities – but they may not have understood or supported the broadcast.
Broadcast policy has been most controversial in a relatively small but loud nature conservation group.
“If it were a separate bill, I think there probably would have been disagreements,” Donnelly said. The law was passed with the support of both parties (unanimously in the Senate and the 32-10 Assembly).
NV Energy has been working to expand the transmission for years. The company and Brooks say the new transmission lines will make the grid more reliable and attract new investment, such as solar and geothermal renewable projects that could be built close to the lines. These projects would give the state more clean electricity and bring in tax money as companies pay state and county taxes to rent the land.
One interstate transmission line already exists. Last summer, NV Energy proposed the construction of two new lines, the Greenlink project. The western line would run northwest from Las Vegas to Yerington. Another in the northern part of the state would run from Yerington to Ely. Together, these two new lines span about 600 miles.
The Public Services Commission, which regulates NV Energy, partially rejected the Greenlink proposal due to cost concerns. The PUC allowed NV Energy to proceed entirely on the west line, but only the northern line permits and land acquisition, not construction.
The law will require the PUC to approve the rest of Greenlink North, allowing NV Energy to proceed with its original proposal.
“PUC, we don’t typically tie their hands, we give them autonomy to deal with issues where they’re good,” Senator Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) said at the first hearing, raising concerns that government intervention in the bureaucracy would lead to inefficiencies.
Brooks said in an interview that intervention in regulatory processes in this case is necessary to implement a broader political agenda.
He said non-profit regulators are assessing “short-term potential impacts on ratepayers” but decision-makers and legislators have a responsibility to develop the state’s “long-term vision”.
Brooks also denied the rate hike, which was due to the fact that the mutual fund initially rejected the plan. Many legislators also asked at the hearings of the bill about the possible effects on the ratepayer: why is there no benefit from the cost of such a large investment that services of general interest will rise?
“There is no indication that prices will necessarily rise at all,” Brooks said in an interview. He said the costs will be shared with all users of the transfers in the long run, including companies attracted by the new transmission lines, which will reduce the costs for the payers of individual payments.
“We could turn them into areas that could be developed for clean energy as well as load projects,” Brooks said at the first hearing, “be they data centers, manufacturing or other heavy industrial loads, mining. We could open up all opportunities for development in our state.” All projects that use electricity, want to come along.
And the Donnelly Biodiversity Center and other conservationists are concerned. Power lines are to be built mostly on federal land. They fear that the development described by Brooks will open up a huge amount of undisturbed land to private developers, damaging natural beauty, animal habitats, and the character of small towns.
Greenlink North, for example, takes you directly through the habitat of the larger sage bird, which has been a long struggle to protect.
“It’s going to be a major source of controversy,” Donnelly said.
Greenlink North also went as planned along U.S. Route 50, America’s “Lonest Road,” a famous tourist destination.
“Right now, we’re kind of setting things up to make it America’s lonest solar park,” Donnelly said.
Kevin Emmerich, founder of Basin and Range Watch, is also opposed to the recently adopted policy. The Land Administration will see dozens of new applications for large solar projects as the relocation project receives support from the legislature and the PUC, he said.
These applications include two proposals to build solar parks right next to Death Valley, Emmerich said. One would be near the famous ghost town of Rhyolite, Beatty.
“The whole view of that ghost town would now be immersed in a 10-square-kilometer solar project,” he said in an interview. Some communities, when they learn that large solar projects are being built near them, may be concerned about their tourism industry, as in Beatty, Emmerich said.
Communities other states have opposed power lines in their areas for land use and visual reasons.
“The legislature didn’t even have these environmental impacts on the radar. They had to hear it from commentators, ”Emmerich said.
A few people, including Emmerich, Donnelly and John Hadder, Basin Range and Watch, spoke about the law for environmental reasons. Several environmental groups also supported the decline, including Sierra Club, Western Resource Advocates and EcoMadres.
Brooks said these projects must pass the “robust permitting and environmental research process currently in place.” Environmental issues were not mentioned in the legislation because he said, “There is no need to refer to current federal and state laws for this project.”
“There’s a segment in the environmental community that doesn’t want anything to be built on anything,” Brooks said. “And that’s just something that’s not realistic if we’re going to tackle climate change in a real way.”
Both Donnelly and Emmerich think that renewable energy sources can be adopted in a more sustainable way, preferably through decentralized production, on-site or near-energy, rather than large long-range transmission projects. Decentralized production includes small-scale projects, such as a solar roof, that allow people to produce their own energy. Bigley of PLAN, who proved neutrality in the bill, said the state should rebuild the network to facilitate decentralized production in order to produce a “people-friendly economy” rather than an economy that benefits companies that produce large projects.
Brooks said the use of decentralized electricity alone, at least with the grid now, is a pipe dream and also expensive. “It’s unrealistic, and it’s impossible to be able to fully meet our CO2 emissions targets and really invest in the climate crisis using decentralized production alone.”
At least for the construction of large power lines, conservationists want a stronger discussion of where they are going to minimize the impact on nature and residents.
Greenlink West’s public meetings will be held at the BLM this year in late June.
“I just hope that when this gets more people and more people know about it, and they know how this affects their national parks and wildlife, we can discuss better,” Emmerich said.