With a mere two weeks remaining in Nevada’s 2021 Legislative Session, lawmakers on the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee heard, for the first time Monday, the 47-page carbon reduction and economic development legislation, Senate Bill 448.
Not surprisingly, Senator Chris Brooks is the bill’s primary sponsor. Brooks founded and operated Las Vegas Solar from 2001 to 2004. Since then, he has been director of Bombard Renewable Energy and executive vice president of Valley Electric Association. Now, Brooks operates Brooks Consulting and has been an eager supporter of the transition to renewable energy resources in the state since being elected to the Assembly in 2016.
The bill is a Democratic lawmaker effort. There are no Republican cosponsors, and a GOP lawmaker on the committee, and others, noted a lack of time to fully vet such a complex and sweeping piece of legislation.
Hear Senator Brooks’ presentation of SB448, edited for continuity.
Eight Key Components
The eight broad aims of the bill include transmission infrastructure upgrades to “make Nevada the hub of the western electric transmission grid,” transportation electrification, energy efficiency programs and incentives, rooftop solar for apartment complexes, “holistic” resource planning to reduce carbon emissions, energy storage, an Economic Development Rate Rider program, and initiatives to help historically underserved communities benefit from lower carbon emission technologies.
“Senate Bill 448 is an attempt for Nevada to capture its place in the new energy economy,” Brooks told members of the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee. “Senate Bill 448 has several provisions that help Nevada take full advantage of the resources we have and the potential we have to attract billions of dollars of private capital into our state, to take advantage of federal infrastructure monies, and create tens of thousands of high-paying, local jobs. All while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to meet our climate goals.”
Many of the proposed actions would be contingent on the approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, so the road to implementation could take years.
Brooks touted the fact that Nevada is home to the nation’s only working lithium mine, the Silver Peak mine in the Clayton Valley. He also alluded to the economic potential of the lithium mines proposed at Thacker Pass and Rhyolite Ridge, though both projects are embroiled in legal and permitting challenges and have yet to be developed.
By taking advantage of federal dollars and constructing a “green link” between Las Vegas and Ely, and another from Ely to Reno, renewable energy produced across the western US could flow through Nevada, and according to Senator Brooks and NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon, the state’s grid resilience would be much improved from a single, north-south line as now exists. The lines would also enable expanded development and distribution of solar and other renewable resources within the state.
Historically Underserved Communities
The bill is also intended to enable historically underserved communities to benefit from lower-emission technologies. Incentives for greater energy efficiency will have higher value for low-income households. The bill would also authorize rooftop solar for multi-unit dwellings, which would enable more renters to have electric vehicle charging at home.
Forty percent of an estimated $100 million dollar investment in transportation electrification must be spent in historically underserved communities, “to the benefit of historically underserved communities,” said Senator Brooks.
Twenty percent of the $100 million investment in transportation electrification must be directed toward the state’s recreation and tourism programs.
Through a lobbyist, Google formally expressed its support. Director of the Governor’s Office of Energy David Bobzein advocated for the bill. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development enthusiastically backed the measure during the hearing. NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon offered a presentation in strong support of the bill.
In stated intent, the bill jibes with the Nevada Climate Strategy published in December of 2020 and Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard goal of 50 percent renewably-sourced electricity by 2030.
But there are problems with the bill for some of the state’s leading environmental groups and organizers, especially regarding the environmental impacts of building hundreds of miles of high-voltage transmission lines, giant solar farms, and lithium mines in some of the state’s most remote and untrammeled regions.
By our count, eight environmental/conservation groups offered testimony on SB448. Three supported the bill, two spoke against the measure, and three offered concern-laden testimony in the neutral position.
Christi Cabrera of the Nevada Conservation League spoke in support.
While the League of Conservation Voters, or CHISPA, did not offer testimony on the bill during yesterday’s hearing, according to Senator Brooks, the group participated in the writing of the bill and is in support.
Dylan Sullivan, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, offered testimony in support. According to Senator Brooks’ comments during the hearing, Sullivan has been working on the bill’s language.
Patrick Donnelly, state director for the Center for Biological Diversity, spoke in opposition.
“We are strong proponents of the renewable energy transition and it’s complete decarbonization of our economy,” said Donnelly. “And there are many measures in this bill that we do support, but we must oppose SB448 as written.
“This bill takes a shoot first, ask questions later approach with regard to the deployment of transmission lines and large- scale renewable energy production. SB448 completely forgoes any level of comprehensive planning or environmental review, instead just throwing the doors open to our public lands with new transmission lines accelerating huge amounts of new industrial energy production in remote parts of our state.
“Large-scale renewable energy production and high voltage transmission line deployment can have significant environmental impacts on wildlife, public lands, water resources, and historically marginalized communities. Just since the introduction of Greenlink West at the PUC, a dozen or more solar energy projects have been proposed along its potential alignment. And while that might sound like a good thing to most people, this has been done with no planning at all for where these projects will go. In some cases, they’re sited in disastrously bad places for wildlife and the environment, or right on the doorstep of national parks.
“Instead of instructing state agencies to complete a clear-eyed, comprehensive review of where renewable energy might be appropriate in this state,SB448, would throw open the doors to our most wild and pristine landscapes and rely on the tender mercies of the market and fossil fuel companies like NV energy to decide the fate of Nevada’s wild lands.
“And that really gets to a fundamental problem here. NV Energy is the fossil fuel industry. Their decades of polluting our climate has put us on the brink of climate disaster. And now we’re going to let them be in the driver’s seat while we try to clean up their mess and avoid climate catastrophe. Again, we appreciate some of the elements of this bill, but SB448, will result insignificant harm to our public lands and wildlife and we must oppose. We support renewable energy but not like this.”
Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch spoke in opposition.
Ian Bigley, of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada spoke in neutral on the bill.
Jaina Moan is the external affairs director for the Nature Conservancy in Nevada and spoke in neutral.
John Hadder is executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch and spoke in neutral.
Chelsey Hand of Great Basin Resource Watch spoke in neutral.