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The Nevada Independent

Responsible energy planning will protect Nevadans’ health — and pocketbooks

Lesley Cohen
Lesley Cohen
Opinion
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Assembly members leave the Legislature during a recess

This year, I am more passionate than ever about fighting to protect Nevada’s families, home owners, and clean energy jobs. That is why I am sponsoring legislation to ensure responsible energy planning and prevent the wasteful spending we just can’t afford.

The latest climate science, energy modeling, and Gov. Sisolak’s own Climate Strategy demonstrate the need to transition away from the use of methane gas (otherwise known as “natural” gas) and other fossil fuels over time. Methane gas used to heat air, water, and food in Nevada’s homes and buildings accounts for a significant and growing portion of climate pollution in the state and is harmful to indoor air quality. As more Nevadans get their electricity from our abundant sunshine and as efficient electric technologies make it cheaper to heat buildings, cook meals, and take hot showers, it is time that we require Nevada’s gas utilities to show that any future spending on the gas system is cost-effective and compatible with our long-term climate and clean energy plans.

Currently, utilities like Southwest Gas can expand to new towns and charge all customers for the cost, without showing that it pencils out. Instead, I’m proposing a responsible energy planning process where gas utilities must 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. If the bill passes, every three years gas utilities will file plans that estimate how much gas they will need, show Nevadans the investments they are proposing in the gas system, and compare the costs and benefits with alternative options, including a switch to electricity. The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) will review these plans and collect public input through a transparent process, in the same fair manner as they review plans from electric utilities, to ensure that they align with the state’s vision for a smart transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Legislators have an essential duty to spend Nevadans’ hard-earned dollars wisely, and our utilities hold that same responsibility for the money you pay every month to power your homes and chip in to maintain energy infrastructure across the state. In some cases, it may not be financially wise to connect a new area of town to the gas system when powering homes and businesses with clean electricity and reducing overall energy demand with energy efficient appliances is actually the cheaper option. However, under the current system, those alternatives are not even considered. 

While Nevada has world-class solar and geothermal energy resources, we still rely heavily on imported methane gas, sending $1.4 billion out of the state every year to buy this fossil fuel. When we invest in local clean energy, Nevadans will see those dollars stay at home and support local energy efficiency and renewable energy businesses. That means more opportunities for good jobs in rapidly growing sectors. In fact, Nevada was the top state in the nation for clean energy job growth in 2018, with employment increasing by 32 percent. 

The benefits extend beyond cost savings and economic opportunity. This is about public health, too. When methane gas is burned, it releases carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other air pollutants that can linger indoors for days. This can lead to troubling health effects, especially for the most vulnerable Nevadans and reminding us that natural gas is not actually so natural at all. For example, studies show that poorly vented gas appliances can create dangerous levels of indoor air pollution that increase asthma symptoms by as much as 42% in children. We can all breathe easier when we transition away from these polluting appliances to efficient, electric versions powered by our state’s increasingly clean electricity sources. That is why this legislation would require utilities to account for the health costs of gas use when planning for future spending and deciding when it makes sense to invest in efficient, electric alternatives.

It is time we create a process for the state to plan for the energy future we want in a transparent and thoughtful way — a way that puts our health first, spends ratepayers’ money wisely, and invests in a brighter future for all Nevadans.

Lesley Cohen represents Assembly District 29 and practices law in Southern Nevada, where she has lived for more than twenty years. 

Editor’s note: We will publish op-eds from lawmakers when they are policy-focused and not self-promotional. We welcome rebuttals from other elected officials, lobbyists, activists or other private citizens. 

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