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They dedicated their lives to others, now they struggle to pay their energy bills

Matthew Hernandez
Matthew Hernandez
Opinion
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My parents dedicated their lives to serving others in the U.S. Army. My father retired from the Army and continued in civil service; my mother is also an Army veteran with a medical and nursing background. Our east Las Vegas community is filled with people like my parents, retired military veterans who were once drawn to the area because of its proximity to Nellis Air Force Base. Now they struggle with fixed incomes, older homes and soaring energy bills.

Many of my parents’ neighbors are faced with hard questions. Do they adjust the thermostat to unsafe and uncomfortable temperatures? Or do they run the air conditioner to stay safe and risk getting a bill they cannot pay and possible service disconnection? Fortunately, my parents have been able to keep up with their rising bills so far. Despite being enrolled in NV Energy and Southwest Gas’ equal payment plans, their payments recently jumped by an unprecedented amount.

This hardship led me to speak out at the general consumer session held by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada on Aug. 30. While waiting my turn to speak, I heard heartbreaking stories about the difficulties families are experiencing. And a common culprit for this rate shock was named: natural gas. This gas is burned to generate electricity and pumped into our homes to run appliances.

Natural gas prices are subject to world events. According to NV Energy, the amount it paid for natural gas increased by more than 70 percent in 2022 and by nearly 500 percent since 2021. Whether you blame the war in Ukraine or natural disasters, the bottom line is that as long as we rely on a global commodity such as gas, we’re subject to these extreme price swings. As a military veteran, I can say with total certainty that we’re always under some sort of global threat, so counting on world peace to stabilize prices is not a sustainable plan.

Our utilities purchase this fuel and pass 100 percent of its costs to customers. They have no financial incentive to operate their systems more efficiently or move away from gas as a fuel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. These monopoly utilities want to build more gas systems at our expense. Almost every time a new development is built in Southern Nevada, Southwest Gas expands its service territory. NV Energy wants to build two new gas plants — one in Southern Nevada and one in Northern Nevada. These pipes and gas plants will last for decades, further tying us to this fossil fuel. 

According to the Governor’s Office of Energy, two-thirds of Nevada’s electricity comes from natural gas. We’re too dependent on this one fuel source. Nevada must tip the scales in favor of in-state energy supplies such as solar and geothermal energy. More local clean energy means we’ll be less subjected to gas price swings. 

Natural gas is a polluting fossil fuel made almost entirely of methane. Methane gas is an air pollutant that contributes to climate change and affects health. Whether the gas is burned in our homes or near our communities, it's harmful. Historically, low- and fixed-income minority communities such as mine suffer the consequences of pollution disproportionately. My father survived the Vietnam War, a heart attack and a stroke. We can’t let the adverse effects of air pollution defeat him and the time he has left.

Like my family and the many people before me who have enlisted in the armed services, I took an oath. I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I’m here to tell you that fossil fuels including methane gas are an enemy. That’s why I now volunteer for Mom’s Clean Air Force. As a veteran, I am using my voice to urge utilities and decision-makers to prioritize and speed up the transition to clean-energy solutions. Clean energy will stabilize our energy bills while protecting us from air pollution.

Matthew Hernandez is a resident of east Las Vegas. He volunteers for Moms Clean Air Force, is an IT/communications specialist working on cybersecurity certification and is a United States Air Force veteran.

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