by Jessica Hill, Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 27, 2023
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo issued an executive order Monday outlining the state’s energy future, drawing a sharp contrast with the energy goals of his Democratic predecessor.
Lombardo’s seventh executive order since taking office in January calls for a diverse energy portfolio that includes natural gas, which former Gov. Steve Sisolak had tried to move away from during his administration.
The state’s new energy policy emphasizes affordable rates and reliability for consumers and increasing the state’s energy independence to ensure there’s enough power during peak summer months.
“Nevada’s advancement of energy independence will spur economic development, lead job creation, drive low-cost energy for Nevadans and reduce carbon emissions for future generations of Nevadans,” the executive order reads.
Nevadans pay an average of $110.36 per month on electricity, about $10 less than the national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Moves to energy independence
Lombardo wants to make Nevada a regional leader in exporting energy. The state will continue to participate in an “organized western energy market” if it can help meet the state’s goals of reliability, affordability and sustainability, the executive order says.
The Governor’s Office of Energy has been working with other states on the future of a western grid since 2019. Since 2011, Nevada’s renewable energy production has tripled, and the state exports solar and geothermal to neighboring states, according to Nevada’s 2022 Status of Energy Report.
Lombardo also has directed the state to implement policies that streamline the permitting process for proposed energy projects and reduce regulations, while ensuring there are appropriate environmental and cultural reviews. Those streamlining priorities include having state agencies and their subdivisions review energy project applications concurrently, rather than one after another, according to the executive order.
The order acknowledges the state’s goal that was established in 2019 to achieve a 50 percent renewable energy portfolio standard by 2030. In 2021, renewable energy made up about 30 percent of overall power generation, with natural gas supplying the most with 62.58 percent, according to Nevada’s 2022 Status of Energy Report.
Back to natural gas
Lombardo’s executive order argues Nevada must pursue a “balanced approach to energy use and development” by using all types of energy, including natural gas for both homes and businesses, as well as solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower and hydrogen.
“Sustainability policies must be advanced while ensuring all Nevadans have affordable and reliable energy,” the executive order reads.
That strategy is opposite of Sisolak’s. His 2021 climate strategy said the way to meet the state’s renewable energy goals would require a transition away from natural gas. While natural gas-fired power plants emit fewer greenhouse gasses than coal, they still cause negative health impacts because of the chemicals released, such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, the Sisolak plan noted.
But the strategy said consumer choice, affordability and equity should be considered before eliminating natural gas as a fuel source entirely. Sisolak’s administration recommended allowing consumers the choice between gas and electric in new construction or remodels of homes to begin to transition away from gas.
Southwest Gas Corp. applauded Lombardo’s order.
“We commend Gov. Lombardo on his inclusive, practical and balanced approach to building pathways that support the State’s energy, economic and climate goals — we believe his recent executive order on energy sends a strong message reaffirming that natural gas is an essential part of delivering a truly resilient and secure energy future for all Nevadans,” said Amy Washburn, a spokeswoman for Southwest Gas, in an email to the Review-Journal. “Energy diversity supports workforce development in our region by creating economic development opportunities.”
NV Energy also supported the move: “Today’s executive order ensures that Nevada residents and businesses will have balanced energy resources to mitigate the risks of volatile energy markets now and into the future,” the company said in a statement. “Developing sufficient electric generation and transmission are critical to ensuring electric energy supply is available to meet the needs of NV Energy customers. Governor Lombardo’s leadership positions Nevada on a clear path toward increased energy independence to ensure reliable power for its citizens, especially when demand peaks during the hot summer months.”
But some conservationists and renewable energy advocates are not happy with the governor’s order, saying it’s “missing the mark.”
“The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just warned us that the planet will reach dangerous levels of warming by the early 2030s,” said Angelyn Tabalba, communications director for Nevada Conservation League, in a statement. “To avoid this, we must immediately reduce fossil fuel use, including methane gas. This executive order’s support for gas is the wrong direction for Nevada.”
Environmentalist Patrick Donnelly agreed.
“Gov. Lombardo has issued this meaningless executive order on behalf of the fossil fuel executives in his administration,” said Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Instead of accelerating the renewable energy transition, the governor is using his bully pulpit to advocate for the continued climate destruction of the fossil fuel industry.”