NRDC’s Agenda for the ‘21 NV Legislative Session

Prioritizing energy efficiency will help put more Nevadans back to work, but the state needs better energy efficiency programs to create those jobs.

The pandemic has devastated Nevada: 4,181 have died, 275,000 have been sickened, and 375 thousand Nevadans lost employment between February and April of 2020. But it was not only Covid-19 that gave 2020 its apocalyptic feel: Nevada and its neighbors in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah each had their warmest August on record. Northern Nevadans spent much of the summer indoors, avoiding smoke from California’s wildfires, which burned 4 percent of that state’s land area. The climate crisis is here.

As Nevada lawmakers convene for a legislative session dominated by budgetary concerns, NRDC and our partners are advancing a budget-neutral climate agenda that helps put Nevadans back to work and attempts to address the acute need for investment in the historically underserved communities hit hardest by the virus. This session we will be focused on policies that fuel Nevada’s cars and buildings with local sunshine instead of out-of-state fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency, and help repair or replace some of the most polluting vehicles on the road.

Nevada has the most solar energy potential in the nation, yet 86% of the energy we consume comes from outside the state, mostly in the form of fossil fuels like oil and methane gas, also known as “natural gas.” In 2018, Nevadans’ fossil fuel bill was $8 billion: and we produce essentially no fossil fuels here! Existing technologies like electric vehicles, heat pumps, and induction cooktops are fast-improving, and give us opportunities to use local solar resources instead of out-of-state fossil fuels to power our cars, cook food, get hot showers, and heat and cool our buildings. Nevada’s recently-released State Climate Strategy, and our own Pathways report both highlight the emissions benefits of switching to electricity in buildings and vehicles.

Implementing a Responsible Energy Planning Process

To meet its goal of reducing emissions to near-zero levels by 2050, the state needs to switch from using methane gas in buildings to using local renewable electricity. A responsible energy planning process would give the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) and other state agencies the tools to prepare for this transition. Gas utilities would file plans every three years that include a forecast of gas demand, proposed investments in the system, and a comparison of the costs and benefits of these investments with alternative options, including electrification. The PUCN would review these plans with input from advocates and the public to ensure that they align with the state’s vision for a smart, managed transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. The new regulatory structure will keep the gas system safe, and make sure gas utilities only make needed, cost-effective investments during the transition; allowing big, unnecessary construction projects will create a big bill for those customers that remain when other customers choose electricity.

The bill also requires the PUCN to investigate and come up with a plan for a managed transition from gas to electricity use in buildings. They will be required to look at the impact of the transition on the gas workforce and how low income customers can be protected during the transition and prioritized for electrification.

Building Out Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Transportation makes up 36 percent of Nevada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and using electric vehicles powered by local solar resources is key to meeting our climate goals. But for Nevadans to choose electric vehicles, they need to be confident they will be able to charge them, particularly if they do not have personal chargers in their garages.

Proposed legislation would require Nevada’s big investor-owned utility company, NV Energy, to develop a program that invests major money in electric vehicle charging infrastructure over the next three years, and propose longer-term strategic plans to accelerate the electrification of the state’s transportation sector. A large portion of those investments would be directed to historically disadvantaged communities, who bear the burden of transportation pollution in Nevada. The initial investment will be used to install banks of chargers in urban areas (“charging depots”), additional depots along major travel routes, and electrification of vehicle fleets like school buses. The legislation would be a good idea at any time, but right now, it will create good jobs in a growing sector of Nevada’s economy at a time when people need to get back to work.

Saving more energy in buildings

Saving energy in buildings is key to meeting the climate challenge and helps people save money on their energy bills. Saving energy is also a big employer: more than 10 thousand Nevadans work in the energy efficiency industry, doing detailed work to optimize building insulation, HVAC, lighting, and other systems.

Prioritizing energy efficiency will help put more Nevadans back to work, but the state needs better energy efficiency programs to create those jobs. While NV Energy already runs programs that aim to make it cheaper and easier for residential and commercial customers to choose the efficient option, the utility underperforms relative to other utilities in the region, like Xcel in Colorado, in part because the law asks little of utilities when it comes to energy efficiency.

Proposed energy efficiency legislation would change this, creating new energy efficiency targets, requiring NV Energy to dedicate more money to programs that specifically serve low-income Nevadans, and pushing the utility to start programs that make it easy for customers to transition from inefficient gas appliances to efficient electric ones. And because NV Energy needs to be more motivated to run good programs, the legislation suggests giving the PUCN the authority to designate a third-party to run programs if NV Energy does not step up.

Closing the Classic Car Loophole

Because of a loophole in the law, tens of thousands of cars in Nevada use the “Classic Car” designation to avoid smog checks. The loophole is so wide that I could have registered my 2000 Honda Accord Coupe as a “classic rod.” These “classic in name only” vehicles can put out 10 to 20 times as much smog pollution as newer vehicles, and even more if emissions control equipment isn’t working. Closing this loophole evens the playing field for all drivers.

The bill will also update smog check fees to support county air quality programs, including help for vehicle owners who want to repair or replace their older polluting vehicles. The programs will prioritize low-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately experience the impacts of vehicle pollution. These same communities often drive vehicles that release more pollution and cost more to drive and maintain. NRDC is supporting legislation, championed by Chispa Nevada, to reduce pollution caused by vehicles and close the “classic car” loophole in the 2021 legislative session.

NRDC looks forward to working with legislators, legislative leadership, our partners, and other stakeholders to advance these policies in the 2021 legislative session.