CARSON CITY – Utilities and business groups oppose a proposal designed to lay the foundation for Nevada’s proposed transition from natural gas.
Arguments for Tuesday’s bill focused on offsetting the need to act quickly on climate change by decarbonizing the state’s buildings and protecting customers who may not have the financial means to switch to electrical infrastructure and devices .
As originally introduced, Bill 380 would have required a gradual reduction in the consumption of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings until it was practically zero by 2050. These goals are in line with Nevada’s government-published Climate Change Strategy. Steve Sisolak’s December administration.
However, these signs, reduced year by year, were removed from the proposal by an amendment made by the sponsor of the bill, Lesley Cohen, D-Henderson.
The amended proposal would require the state utilities commission to open an investigation protocol examining the role of natural gas in the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, regulators would put in place a process that would force gas utilities to prove to regulators that expansion or infrastructure replacement plans “make economic and environmental sense,” Cohen said during a hearing on the assembly’s growth and infrastructure committee Tuesday.
“This is part of planning the future so we can reduce our carbon emissions,” said Cohen.
Despite the changes, Nevada’s two largest utility companies, NV Energy and Southwest Gas, voiced concern when they testified against the bill during Tuesday’s hearing on whether the proposal could lead to price increases for customers.
“We are fully committed to energy and greenhouse gas reduction efforts, but we are also very concerned about the needs of our customers here in Nevada,” said John Hester, President and CEO of Southwest Gas.
Dylan Sullivan, a senior scientist on the Board of Defense for Natural Resources who helped draft the bill with Cohen, said one focus of the bill is to give the state more control over future Southwest Gas expansion plans and to determine whether to replace thousands of kilometers of natural gas pipelines would be necessary as the state moves away from the resource.
“This bill really only gives the PUC the tools to evaluate this investment and make sure it makes sense for the future direction of the state,” said Sullivan.
The long-term climate strategy published by the Sisolak government in December set 17 policy changes for the state to address climate change and move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is especially true of the demand to stop gas-fired heating in households and businesses.
Ernest Figueroa, Nevada’s consumer advocate, said on the governor’s initiative, “For economic reasons, gas resource planning is imperative so that gas utility customers don’t have billions of dollars in stranded assets at this point.”
Effects on elderly, poor residents
However, some lawmakers and opponents of the law have raised concerns about how the transition would affect older and lower-income populations in the state.
“Many older adults and lower-income Nevadans currently rely on natural gas to hear their homes, cook, and heat their hot water,” said Barry Gold, a lobbyist at AARP in Nevada. “It is cheaper to use natural gas, and if they are forced to use electricity it could only compound the difficulties they may already have now, between buying food and medicine or heating their homes.
“We shouldn’t ask Grandma to pull out her water heater in her mobile home at great expense,” added Gold.
However, Cohen pushed those concerns back, saying the bill would only force gas utilities to show that their investment plans are economically and environmentally viable for the state, and would not force people to replace their gas appliances.
“The proposal doesn’t force anyone to change anything, but it does ask us to examine where we are going, where we are going and whether we can choose wisely,” Cohen said. “This is a problem that we can no longer ignore.”
Contact the Head of the Capital Bureau, Colton Lochhead at [email protected] Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.