Nevada maps path toward 100% clean energy

Source: By Miranda Willson, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2020

Nevada released a plan yesterday for achieving net-zero emissions economywide by 2050, outlining policies lawmakers could pursue to decarbonize electricity, transportation and other sectors.

But the state faces an uphill battle as it looks to reduce emissions from the power sector and broader economy: As of now, Nevada is not on track to meet its emissions reduction goals, according to the “State Climate Strategy.” Absent policy changes, emissions in Nevada will have decreased 26% from 2005 levels by 2030 — far short of the 45% emissions reduction goal by 2030 that the state established last year.

Nonetheless, environmental groups were generally encouraged by the climate strategy, the first official state document to provide a detailed analysis of policies ranging from the adoption of low-carbon fuel standards to new energy efficiency programs to a phaseout of natural gas.

“It reflects that there’s a growing momentum around climate action in the state,” said Dylan Sullivan, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program.

The release of the framework came on the heels of other clean energy plans put forth by states in the West and elsewhere. Earlier this month, Arizona approved a mandate for 100% clean electricity by 2050 (Climatewire, Nov. 17). In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that the state would phase out gasoline cars by 2035.

President-elect Joe Biden’s clean energy targets, which include a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, will hinge in part on support from states. Although Biden’s net-zero emissions goal is in line with Nevada’s aspirations, the Silver State’s standard of 50% renewable power by 2030 differs from Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Pushing to strengthen the state’s current RPS goal, which was enshrined in the state constitution with the passage of a ballot initiative in November, could be a priority for environmental groups in the next several years, Sullivan said.

“It’s the key to really making the numbers work,” he said.

‘Political bravery’

While the state’s new climate strategy does not mandate particular policies, it highlights 17 steps the state could take to reduce emissions across the economy, including in transportation, the power sector, industry, homes and businesses, and land use planning. Some of those steps — such as the adoption of low and zero-emission passenger vehicle standards and the establishment of a clean trucks program — borrow from measures already enacted in California and other states.

The plan also floats a phaseout of natural gas use in buildings, something that has faced strong opposition in oil and gas states. This month, for example, Republican lawmakers in Utah advanced a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from trying to ban natural gas in new buildings, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“It took political bravery [for Nevada] to say we’re going to transition off of dirty fracked gas. That’s a big deal,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

While the framework uses climate justice as a lens for analyzing various policies, it omits or fails to prioritize a number of policies that would most effectively promote climate justice, Donnelly said. For example, not included in the 17 policies discussed in detail is a measure promoting or reducing barriers to rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources, Donnelly said.

“Climate justice isn’t just going to happen on its own,” he said. “We need policies to make it happen.”

Nevada describes the climate strategy, however, as a “living document” — one that could be modified moving forward, said Kristen Averyt, the state’s climate policy coordinator.

“This overarching framework was really focused on process,” Averyt said. “It’s about the long game: How do we set up frameworks to make sure we have the discussions that are necessary in order to implement policy, and develop sound policies that address not just a reduction of greenhouse gases but, for example, systemic environmental justice issues?”

Looking ahead to the Nevada legislative session that begins Feb. 1, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and members of the Nevada Legislature may try to take action on some of the measures put forth in the framework, Averyt said. Even though the state is currently off track to meet its climate goals, Averyt said she is encouraged by the governor’s support for climate action so far.

“There are going to be difficult discussions that need to happen, and there will be trade-offs,” she said. “We can’t pretend that addressing climate change is an easy issue. It’s complex, and there are multiple layers that need to be considered.”

One thing that could limit immediate new clean energy investments, however, is the economic challenges associated with the pandemic, which have left many states short on revenue. Earlier this month, Sisolak asked all state agencies to cut their budgets by 12% for the 2021-2023 biennium.

“It’s hard to get passed anything that has a budgetary cost to it now,” Sullivan said. “Things like electric vehicle incentives, while I think they’ll be important for increasing EV adoption in the future, are not going to happen until the economy recovers.”