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Southwest Gas is putting profits over people 

Mary House
Mary House
Elspeth DiMarzio
Elspeth DiMarzio
Opinion
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This winter, many Nevada families have watched, shocked, as their gas heating bills have doubled and even tripled in a single month. Even households that have done their best to keep bills low by conserving energy have reported bill increases. Nevadans should not have to suffer through the cold because their gas utility payments have become unaffordable. 

We may take another financial hit if Southwest Gas gets its way with a proposal to increase the cost of gas yet again. As community leaders, we are concerned about the economic impact that this rate hike could have — especially for low income and historically underserved Nevadans. As mothers (and one of us a proud grandma), we are also concerned by Southwest Gas’ intention to use this rate increase to pay for an unnecessary expansion of our methane gas system — a financial commitment that will increase the climate and health effects our children will see for decades to come.

(Editor’s note: The current proposed rate increase would raise average residential monthly bills by $2.31 (or 3.05 percent) in Southern Nevada and $2.16 (or 2.85 percent) in Northern Nevada.)

This rate hike is irresponsible. During a recent public comment session, Southwest Gas customers unanimously urged the utility to withdraw its proposal. Customers also called for cleaner, more affordable fuel sources and cuts to fossil fuels such as methane gas, which drive extreme heat and accelerate the effects of climate change.

But that request fell on deaf ears.

If Southwest Gas’ rate increase is approved, it will be the utility’s third rate increase in just four years. Hiking energy bills so dramatically in such a short period of time is highly unusual for most utilities — which only seek rate increases once every three to five years — but it’s right on brand for Southwest Gas. As part of the rate increase, the gas provider had also asked regulators to up the amount of profit their Wall Street investors will make from their stake in the company, from 9.25 percent to 9.9 percent. (Editor’s Note: Southwest Gas recently reached a settlement with utility regulators to raise their rate of return to 9.4 percent) Meanwhile, their top executives are already making millions in bonuses

It’s unconscionable to try and squeeze more profits from Nevada households at a time when many Nevadans are still unemployed, and when fossil fuel prices are already driving inflation across the country. It’s even worse to do so with the express intention of increasing our state’s dependence on a methane gas system that is fueling the climate crisis and polluting our air.

This rate increase will force every Southwest Gas customer to pay for a costly expansion of our state’s network of gas pipelines, including an 80-mile extension to serve the 18,000 residents of Mesquite. These pipes keep us dependent on gas-fired appliances that pollute our homes, and worsen the climate crisis. Southwest Gas’ parent company, Southwest Gas Holdings, recently doubled down on this fossil fuel infrastructure by paying $2 billion on the Questar pipeline — a purchase that even some of the utility’s own shareholders think is a bad idea. Actions like this show the utility isn’t hurting financially and is focusing on investments that move us further from Nevada’s climate goals instead of closer to a carbon-free future.

There’s a better way. Instead of pouring billions into a methane gas system that is incompatible with meeting our climate targets, Nevada should instead invest in upgrading homes to the latest highly-efficient electric appliances, which can run on clean energy that is produced locally. This transition will increase our resilience to spikes in the cost of imported fossil fuels while also increasing our state’s energy independence.

There are other economic benefits to transitioning homes from gas to clean energy. According to a recent analysis from Rewiring America, electrifying homes and upgrading to electric vehicles could lower energy costs for the average Nevada household by $1,792 annually. Making these upgrades statewide could create 51,769 net new jobs.

Southwest Gas has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted to act in the best interest of Nevada ratepayers. When the utility sought rate hikes in 2018 and 2020, it got in trouble for trying to have customers foot the bill for lavish dinners and other inappropriate expenses. Southwest Gas also attempted to pass legislation last year that would have cost customers $3.7 billion for unnecessary projects. That effort was so egregious that it triggered an investigation by utility regulators about the future of methane gas use in the state.

Nevada cannot allow Southwest Gas’ corporate greed to keep hurting Nevada households — either through needless rate increases, or through continued expansion of a methane gas distribution system that we must begin winding down to meet our climate targets. It’s time to chart a course to a clean energy future with more affordable utility bills, cleaner air, and a more stable climate.

Dr. Mary House is the CEO of a faith- and community-based nonprofit, CHR, Inc. (Caring, Helping & Restoring Lives). Through CHR, Dr. House advocates for clean energy and weatherization programs for low-income families in Nevada. She is also the First Lady of Mountaintop Faith Ministries, one of the first Black churches in Southern Nevada to upgrade to rooftop solar. Dr. House recently replaced her gas stove with an induction cooktop.

Elspeth DiMarzio is the Senior Campaign Representative at Sierra Club. For more than 10 years, Elspeth has advocated for clean energy policy that will help Nevada fight against climate change – including moving beyond coal. Elspeth has made Nevada her home for the last 13 years and is raising her daughter in Las Vegas with her husband.

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