COMPLEX CLIMATE CHALLENGES
FOR NEVADA

While the science of climate change is beyond question, the solutions necessary to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and manage the current and future impacts of climate change are complex. The impacts transcend sectors and scales, while the solutions require coordination and collaboration across jurisdictions, multiple levels of government, and with the private sector. Thus, there is no single solution to addressing climate change in Nevada. Instead, a broad scope of issues must be considered together in order to develop sound policy that will match available clean technologies to maximize GHG emissions reductions while protecting Nevada’s communities and natural resources from climate impacts. This broad-scope approach is also the recipe necessary for Nevada to fully leverage the economic benefits of the rapidly emerging clean energy future.

Implementing a single policy, program, or plan without considering the constellation of connected issues has the potential for adverse consequences.

Implementing a single policy, program, or plan without considering the constellation of connected issues has the potential for adverse consequences. For example, most large-scale mitigation actions involve significant financial investments and actions by local, state, and federal governments—in partnership with the private sector—to retool or deploy new infrastructure. This infrastructure may be vulnerable to natural hazards, which are in many cases becoming more frequent, more intense, and more unpredictable. To manage future risk, planning must integrate the medium- and long-term vulnerabilities to infrastructure posed by increasingly volatile environment conditions. These climate mitigation efforts must also avoid compromising other GHG emissions-reduction activities, while reducing exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Multiple complexities that should be considered in order to develop a catalog of climate-related policies, programs, and plans that are harmonized within and across different levels of governance and economic sectors.

The following topics represent opportunities to significantly reduce Nevada’s GHG emissions. Each topic lays out multiple complexities that should be considered in order to develop a catalog of climate-related policies, programs, and plans that are harmonized within and across different levels of governance and economic sectors. To achieve this outcome, first and foremost, it is critical to establish strong collaboration and communication among federal, state, tribal, and local governments across Nevada, along with the private sector. An integrated governance framework is needed to guide such a strategic approach to managing climate change. The governance section provides the “building materials” necessary to create a Nevada-specific framework for addressing climate change across the state.

TRANSPORTATION TRANSFORMATION

The transportation sector is currently Nevada’s greatest source of GHG emissions. A two-pronged approach to reduce transportation demand, particularly in urban areas, while significantly increasing the percentage of low- and zero-emissions vehicles on Nevada roads can dramatically reduce transportation-related GHG emissions while advancing the state’s economic recovery and rebuilding post-COVID. There are also tangible benefits to the health and safety of Nevadans as air quality would be improved as tailpipe emissions are reduced.

Achieving Nevada’s net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 goal will require major changes to the state’s transportation systems, as well as shifts in travel patterns and personal transportation choices. This in turn will require various degrees of buy-in across Nevada’s urban and rural communities. Ameliorating GHG emissions will also necessitate a more-strategic approach to Nevada’s investment in transportation infrastructure that includes consideration of the multiple cascading impacts of climate change. Other states are already navigating these issues and succeeding in building modern, low-emissions, climate-resilient transportation systems while accelerating consumer adoption of clean vehicles and alternative transportation options.

During the climate strategy listening sessions, participants broadly supported shifting away from fossil-fueled vehicles, but also identified issues that need to be considered in shifting toward new and expanded transportation alternatives.

The majority of GHG emissions from the transportation sector come from highway vehicle use by both passenger cars and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. However, through time, the fuel mix used by vehicles registered in the state has expanded slightly to include a small portion of alternative fuels and zero-emissions options (Table 1; Figure 1).

Table 1. Nevada DMV Registrations by Fuel Type

Fuel TypeFY2009FY2010FY2011FY2012FY2013FY2014FY2015FY2016FY2017FY2018FY2019FY2020
DIESEL87,89685,03285,69387,84099,75888,69699,844104,21799,071112,008118,952113,763
GASOLINE2,031,7261,985,4691,954,4111,981,9392,243,9941,937,3152,149,3542,201,2202,058,1882,305,3832,352,2662,142,373
GASOLINE/ELECTRIC (HYBRID)12,11613,65015,35917,95724,77325,00030,57234,09735,32043,07447,63845,909
GASOLINE - CONVERTIBLE1,4781,4551,3931,1451,1729601,018908699707643469
ELECTRIC1551751682314866871,3581,9712,7004,2117,3009,296
FLEXIBLE FUEL47,03154,59666,50082,937112,997113,343134,944148,157147,674170,353178,565162,821
ETHANOL GAS ONLY372213141312121313161412
METHANOL GAS ONLY7873757991991169858798953
COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS183166150152252187211516559670553426
PROPANE1,0311,3981,3201,3361,6361,2771,5401,3041,0461,1451,025912
HYDROGEN FUEL CELL-------11221
DIESEL/ELECTRIC-------15479
UNKNOWN14,49212,96411,90511,04211,0488,7648,9287,4215,3145,6475,2174,008
NONE144,654141,124142,716144,689163,685143,373160,206140,388103,493125,205132,890107,191
Total Vehicle Registrations2,340,8772,296,1242,279,7032,329,3612,659,9052,319,7132,588,1032,640,3122,454,1412,768,5042,845,1612,587,243

Figure 1. Nevada DMV Registrations of Alternative Fuel, Low-, and Zero-Emissions Vehicles

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Nevada is making initial progress on transportation transformation by pursuing low-emissions vehicle (LEV) and zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) ‘clean car’ regulations for passenger vehicles and through slowly increasing investments in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. As Nevada seeks to accelerate clean transportation options, immediate hurdles include expanding vehicle choice in Nevada and promoting greater consumer awareness. This is a particular challenge in rural communities where light-duty gas and diesel trucks command a larger market share than in the urban areas of Nevada, while current low- and zero-emissions light-duty truck options on the market are either not available, unaffordable, or unappealing, according to several rural stakeholders. Comments from members of the Nevada community point out that rural residents working on farms and ranches also require larger vehicles.

Affordability is a shared concern across the state. Although the initial investment in these vehicles can be offset by reduced fuel and maintenance expenses, and with federal tax credits, accessibility and affordability of new EVs to marginalized and vulnerable communities was a concern participants expressed in the climate strategy stakeholder process and another reason to provide alternatives to personal automobiles in addition to a cleaner fleet. Also, California’s recent push toward sales of only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 could expand affordable options available on the secondary market here in Nevada.

Range anxiety is another commonly cited barrier to widespread adoption of EVs. To address the need to support charging on long-distance, point-to-point trips, multiple efforts to expand the network across the Western United States are under way. These include the West Coast Electric Highway (between California and British Columbia) and the Regional Electric Vehicle Plan for the West (REV West), including the Nevada Electric Highway between Las Vegas and Reno. The Electric Vehicles Roadmap Initiative by the Western Governors’ Association could lay the groundwork to further expand charging infrastructure across the Western United States.

Expanding at-home and workplace charging is also needed. There are currently 272 public charging stations and 923 outlets across Nevada (DOE 2020), but it is unknown how many homes in Nevada can accommodate charging. The average cost of installing a charger at home (Level 2 or higher) is $1,200, with an average range between $850 and $2,200. This is an additional expense for a homeowner that could offset some of the long-term benefit of reduced maintenance costs. Supporting installation of neighborhood or community charging stations could be an option that could also ensure accessibility for renters. This is important as approximately 45% of households in Nevada reside in rental properties where installation of a charging station may be an additional investment that a landlord is not willing to incur (Nevada Housing Division, 2017).

To address affordability concerns and overcome consumer hesitance in purchasing EVs, every LEV/ZEV state has implemented incentives tied to the purchase of these vehicles at some point (Table 2). Nevadans participating in listening sessions and submitting comments indicated the need for incentives, particularly to allow low-income households access to electric vehicles. Given the success of incentives in promoting LEV and ZEV adoption in other states, this is a policy area that Nevada should explore in better economic times. In the near term, the state is constrained by a reduced state budget and a narrow tax structure.

Table 2. Incentive Structures Adopted by LEV/ZEV States

INCENTIVE OPTION
StateZEVState?Income Tax CreditSales Tax CreditRebate$ Source for Rebate
CAY$2,000 (income limits)Cap-and-trade $ Low-carbon fuel standard revenue
COY$4,000N/A
CTYUp to $5KUtilities
MAY$2,500Cap-and-trade $
MDYSales Tax Exemption [ended 7/1/20]N/A
MEY$2,000VW settlement $
NJYWaive Sales Tax$5KUtilities
NYY$2,000Utilities
ORYUp to $5KTax on auto dealers
PAN$750Utilities gross receipt tax
RIYSuspended 2017No funding source
VTY$4,000 (income limits)State funds & utilities
WANSales Tax ExemptionN/A

Both Maryland and Rhode Island have sunset their incentive programs because of a lack of program funding.

Electrification of freight vehicles is a popular option across U.S. states that is rapidly expanding with commitments to fully electrify vehicle fleets from industry partners, including Walmart, Amazon, Uber, and Lyft. This, coupled with California’s recent announcement to only sell zero-emissions vehicles in the state beginning in 2035, could significantly drive up demand for battery production and related advanced manufacturing. Supporting the workforce pipeline and implementing retraining programs to support this growing industry can create more jobs for Nevadans. This could offset reduced demand for traditional auto mechanics and impacts to small businesses associated with gas stations.

Nevada is uniquely poised to capitalize on its unique assets by leveraging growth in the EV sector to become a hub for transportation electrification. In considering the entire battery production supply chain, there is already an increase in the need for lithium at the front end, growing demand for advanced manufacturing of batteries, and active research to identify recycling and green disposal options at end of life—all of which Nevada is already actively engaged with.

Nevada is uniquely poised to capitalize on its unique assets by leveraging growth in the EV sector to become a hub for transportation electrification. In considering the entire battery production supply chain, there is already an increase in the need for lithium at the front end, growing demand for advanced manufacturing of batteries, and active research to identify recycling and green disposal options at end of life—all of which Nevada is already actively engaged with.

Nevada has the largest lithium prospects in the United States, and the only active lithium mine in North America (i.e., Silver Peak). Increasing global demand for battery production is prompting the mining industry to pursue a new extraction enterprise at Thacker Pass, the largest known lithium resource in the country. Several entities are considering investments or have already secured rights to a lithium claim in Nevada. This would certainly lead to expanded job opportunities. Of course, the environmental impact of mining to the landscape and water resources must also be carefully considered. Similarly, the disposal of batteries is another environmental challenge given the mix of chemicals and metals that comprise the components and no efficient, cost-effective mechanism for recycling is yet available.

One concern about transportation electrification is how the power system will handle a rapid ramp up in demand for charging along with the introduction of more-variable electrical loads. However, EVs present beneficial opportunities to the grid as distributed battery resources that could provide demand response services. Additionally, managed EV charging through proper price signals can benefit the grid. Should a very rapid increase in EV adoption occur, there is a small risk of increasing GHG emissions by the energy sector if new renewable development and deployment does not keep pace (Stokes 2020). However, this is unlikely given the breadth of renewable energy development opportunities across Nevada, and the hurdles that must be overcome to increase EV adoption in the state.

Beyond transportation electrification, there are other opportunities to reduce transportation GHG emissions. These include the use of other alternative fuels and transportation demand management, which are utilized in other states and countries.

In January 2017, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) established an Alternative Fuel Corridor for vehicles that are fueled with compressed natural gas (CNG), electricity (EV), hydrogen, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). These corridors have alternative refueling sites along a designated route on the National Highway System. Nevada has already had several corridors designated and/or ready for EV, CNG, and LPG, with even more pending that will include LNG. While Nevada does not currently have any public hydrogen fueling stations or identified corridors, California has a network in place. As increased emissions-control regulations in California take effect, it is likely that the demand will increase for hydrogen fueling stations, along with EV charging stations on Nevada’s interstates and other key corridors. Utah and Colorado are actively evaluating hydrogen fuel options, which will increase both opportunity and demand for stations across the state. Other countries utilizing hydrogen for transportation include Germany, Italy, and Denmark.

Consideration of the lifecycle GHG emissions from various alternative fuels (e.g. may provide additional information regarding fueling and charging infrastructure strategies beyond consideration of just tailpipe emissions.

Beyond transportation electrification, there are other opportunities to reduce transportation GHG emissions. These include the use of other alternative fuels and transportation demand management, which are utilized in other states and countries.

In addition to reducing transportation vehicle emissions, other strategies to reduce dependence on single-occupant vehicles (SOVs) and vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) can have important impacts on other criteria pollutants as well as health, safety, and equity of the population.

Transportation demand management is a set of strategies that aim to reduce the overall use of vehicles in the transportation system. Generally, this concept can include incentives for use of alternative modes such as more-frequent and/or free transit, improved active transportation networks, or incentives to carpool or telecommute. In addition, managing demand can also include disincentives such as pricing strategies for use of SOVs. The ideal transportation demand management strategies utilize a combination of incentives and disincentives to encourage travel behavior changes. However, these approaches include challenges such as public and agency support, as well as funding. Implementing demand management includes not just the transportation sector, but must involve land-use considerations in order to be effective.

VMTs in Nevada are growing faster than the population. Also, driving distances are increasing on average due to poor land-use planning and urban sprawl development patterns. According to the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), between 2008 and 2018, lane miles in Nevada have expanded from 72,000 to more than 102,000 miles, representing a 42% increase. Projections indicate that over the next 10 years they will go up by another 30%, fueled by a 14% increase in miles traveled per citizen. If this trend does not change, GHG targets will be difficult to meet, even with aggressive changes to vehicle efficiency and fuel type, due to turnover rate of vehicles and other transportation-related GHG emissions, such as roadway building and maintenance.

VMTs in Nevada are growing faster than the population. If this trend does not change, GHG targets will be difficult to meet, even with aggressive changes to vehicle efficiency and fuel type, due to turnover rate of vehicles and other transportation-related GHG emissions, such as roadway building and maintenance.

In the simplest terms, transportation demand management encourages travelers to travel less or utilize less-energy-intensive modes of travel. In order to make that shift, options must be provided that are equally effective from a time and cost perspective compared with using a personal vehicle. Those alternatives—such as transit, walking, and biking—require investments at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as ensuring transportation efficiency and modal options are considered in the planning, zoning, and development processes. Some examples may include:

  • Expansion of regional and interregional transit services through increased frequency, expanded service areas, and improved reliability;
  • Adoption of a statewide transportation demand management program for large employers to actively participate in minimizing the vehicle trips their business creates. This is a strategy already in place in the urbanized Southern Nevada and Washoe areas as part of their air quality mitigation efforts, but could be expanded and measures can be improved to better evaluate the effectiveness at the statewide level;
  • Adoption of pricing strategies such as increasing fuel taxes or creating a per-mile fee to reduce SOV usage, or parking pricing strategies that encourage alternatives to SOVs;
  • Adoption of land use policies that include an analysis of transportation impact with a set of incentives or fees to limit the anticipated increase in VMTs;
  • Creation of a process that would require an analysis of alternatives—such as operational improvements, transit options, or HOV lanes—prior to any proposed highway expansion; and
  • Creation of a vehicle rebate program (“cash for clunkers”) that provides incentives for alternative/lower-emitting transportation modes (e.g., bicycles, e-bikes, transit) and not just lower-emissions vehicles.

However, due to the level of complexity and variety of strategies, careful planning is necessary before recommending any specific policies or strategies on this topic.

Most states that have travel demand strategies as part of their climate, air quality, or transportation plans provide general strategies with overarching policies, such as a VMT target reduction, but generally fall short of specific statewide mandates. This allows for regions to develop a combination of strategies within their programs that are best suited for that particular region’s travel needs and options.

Changing travel behavior is challenging and will take a coordinated effort at multiple levels of government as well as an equitable transportation funding solution to provide improved alternatives to current travel patterns. While the state continues to develop policies to reduce GHG emissions from transportation and other sectors, an effort to evaluate more-sustainable and equitable funding for transportation must be undertaken simultaneously and in concert with the climate strategies. Without that coordination, other transportation concerns (e.g., equity, state of good repair, congestion) will overshadow the efforts to reduce GHG emissions. By evaluating and developing solutions that adequately and equitably fund transportation needs while reducing environmental impacts, a sustainable solution can be developed that meets multiple goals and garners support from a variety of stakeholders and interests.

Electrification Coalition Roadmap for Transportation Electrification in Nevada

The Electrification Coalition (EC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on eliminating the United States’ dependence on foreign oil in order to support domestic national security priorities. In early 2020, the EC announced that Nevada was selected as one of five states that would receive support to develop a comprehensive roadmap to support planning that would move the state toward electrification of transportation. The effort will involve stakeholder convenings including key state and local government officials with the intention of outlining a path forward that will navigate key roadblocks and address challenges. The final report should be complete in 2021.

TRANSMISSION PLANNING &

GRID MODERNIZATION

Power-sector issues extend beyond Nevada’s borders. In Nevada, the majority of the power supply is generated and used in state. Modest amounts are imported from Arizona (19%), Idaho (4%), Utah (2%), and California (1%) (FEWSION 2.0). Nevada does export power to California (14%) and Arizona (14%) (FEWSION 2.0). As Nevada is also geographically located between large urban and economic centers across the West, it serves as a transmission “hub” and plays a critical role in the delivery of electricity for the region. Consequently, transmission and distribution grid planning and modernization are a West-wide effort and the influence of climate change across all these states must be considered in managing both current and future supply and demand.

As Nevada is also geographically located between large urban and economic centers across the West, it serves as a transmission “hub” and plays a critical role in the delivery of electricity for the region. Consequently, transmission and distribution grid planning and modernization are a West-wide effort and the influence of climate change across all these states must be considered in managing both current and future supply and demand.

Existing power supplies are threatened by the impacts of climate change. Diminishing freshwater availability may compromise hydropower and thermoelectric power plants that use surface water in Arizona. Declines in the water supply from the Colorado River that feeds Lake Mead has already impacted hydropower generation at Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam supplies power for three Western states (Nevada, Arizona, and California), and has a capacity of 2,080 MW. However, for every foot that Lake Mead drops, 5.7 MW of capacity is lost. Today, with water elevations at the lake hovering around 1,080 during the summer months, the dam generates in the range 25% of its original capacity. If the lake drops below 1,050, Hoover Dam can no longer generate electricity.

Wildfire is a threat to power-sector infrastructure, particularly to the transmission lines that transect the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains. Aging energy infrastructure can also spark wildfires, as was the case with some of the 2017 northern California wildfires that were started by PG&E power lines. In the aftermath, electricity utility companies across the West, including NV Energy, have either shutdown electricity delivery to customers, or prepared to, on days where the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning and there is a high fire risk. Given that these tend to occur during the hottest days, curtailing power can pose heat-related health risks as no air conditioning is available. Further, seniors and other vulnerable populations may not be able to refrigerate important medication or power medical equipment.

The combination of a growing population and increasing temperatures is expected to increase total energy demands across the United States (NCA 2018). Cooling degree days are already increasing in the West, as are the duration of heat waves, particularly in Southern Nevada. Extreme heat and associated spikes in air conditioning demand are already taxing power systems, highlighting the urgency of modernizing power systems (See Box 1).

Box 1. Interconnected Climate Challenges: Late Summer 2020

Record-breaking heatwaves, high winds, and other extreme weather events remain a constant and critical threat to Nevada’s power grid and public safety. As temperatures rise, so does the demand placed on the power grid due to the need for air conditioning and refrigeration. Strong windstorms have damaged power lines, which can result not only in the loss of power, but also have led to devastating wildfires across the West. It is becoming increasingly common for utility companies to address this strain on power supply by asking residents to reduce their power usage during the hottest parts of the day. Some have even implemented scheduled power outages, or “rolling blackouts,” across entire sections of cities and communities to prevent excessive strain on power supply grids. At issue is that the “hottest part of the day” is getting longer, and the strain on power supplies is growing. 

In August 2020, both California and Nevada utilities issued blackout warnings to customers as a record-breaking heat wave hit the region and air conditioning demand soared. Californians were subject to blackouts in August, and subsequent investigations illuminated challenges balancing the supply and demand, mismanagement of the natural gas power systems, and failure to plan for such extreme events. This happened again in October when extreme Santa Ana winds threatened to fuel already raging wildfires across the state, forcing the utilities to shut power in a preemptive attempt to reduce fire risks.

As more and more Western states and utilities pursue higher renewable portfolio standards, carbon policies, and aggressive climate goals, states need to work together to keep costs down and maintain reliability for customers. With leadership from governors, states can coordinate and collaborate on solutions to achieve carbon-reduction goals, realize economic and customer benefits, improve transmission system planning, protect state sovereignty over resource and procurement choices, and develop an equitable, independent governance that includes a role for states.

With leadership from governors, states can coordinate and collaborate on solutions to achieve carbon-reduction goals, realize economic and customer benefits, improve transmission system planning, protect state sovereignty over resource and procurement choices, and develop an equitable, independent governance that includes a role for states.

Nevada is currently engaged in power-related planning on multiple fronts.

Nevada and other Western states are working with the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) to facilitate a conversation among governors for regional cooperation on electricity issues such as transmission, resource adequacy, GHG accounting, and clean energy standards. Further, under the direction of Governor Sisolak, the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy (GOE) and the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) are engaging in discussions across the Western states with stakeholders to evaluate regional energy market options.

Serviced by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), many utilities in the West participate in a sub-hourly, real-time market, known as the Western Energy Imbalance Market (EIM), to balance supply and demand in five-minute and fifteen-minute intervals. NV Energy was the second utility to join the EIM in 2015 (following PacifiCorp in 2014). The EIM footprint includes portions of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming, and will be expanding to include Montana and New Mexico. Since inception, the EIM has resulted in gross benefits of over $800 million, with Nevada customers having seen a benefit of $82 million. CAISO has initiated expansion of the EIM to add an “Extended Day Ahead Market (EDAM),” that would likely result in even more customer benefits. Nevada has a strong history of working with California and CAISO on energy issues.

Nevada is a transmission “hub” and plays a critical role in the delivery of electricity for the region, exporting 1,291 MW of renewable energy to surrounding states (out of more than 4 GW of in-state nameplate renewable energy capacity as of 2018). Utilities and clean energy advocates are aligned on EIM and expansion of the market as it is good for customers and good for the environment.

States are also working together through multiple venues on a variety of other issues:

  • Western EIM Body of State Regulators (BOSR): PUC commissioners meet periodically to discuss Western EIM.
  • Western Interstate Energy Board (WIEB) and Committee on Regional Electric Power Cooperation (CREPC): PUC commissioners and governors’ energy advisors meet twice per year to discuss energy issues facing the West.
  • Joint Action Framework on Climate Change MOU: PUCs from California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado are collaborating and sharing best practices for decarbonizing the energy sector.

As planning for a future grid continues, the current threats and vulnerabilities to both power supplies and energy demands, as well as how these may change in the future, must be considered. For example, as ecosystems shift and different forests change, wildfire vulnerabilities will change in the decades to come (NCA 2018). The shifting risk regimes for both power plants and transmission lines do influence optimal siting for both. Incorporating climate impacts on energy (e.g., IAEA 2019; Cronin et al., 2018; NCA 2018) into planning ensures the reliability and resilience of the electrical grid, while proactively aiming to prevent catastrophic loss of life or property.

Given the state’s solar potential and significant geothermal resources, there is great opportunity to expand power generation from renewable resources. While the grid modernization efforts under way will enable the appropriate incorporation of renewable resources, siting of these generating assets (which affects transmission design) should consider how climate change may alter their performance.

Given the state’s solar potential and significant geothermal resources, there is great opportunity to expand power generation from renewable resources. While the grid modernization efforts under way will enable the appropriate incorporation of renewable resources, siting of these generating assets (which affects transmission design) should consider how climate change may alter their performance. As an example, diminished air quality from acute events like wildfires can compromise solar power generation, as was the case during the 2020 California fires when airborne particulate concentrations were high enough that solar production dropped by 30% (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Daily CAISO Solar Generation and California Peak Air Particulate Matter Level

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These planning efforts are well-positioned to address the demand for onboarding renewables while navigating the complexities of a changing climate and how that might impact energy systems in the future. However, for Nevada, although the regulatory authority of the PUCN does include requirements related to environmental protections, there is no explicit requirement to demonstrate adequate preparation for risks to any assets posed by the long-term impacts of climate change (e.g., wildfire, flooding, cooling demands). Other states have requirements that climate change projections are explicitly addressed and incorporated into planning more broadly for state-funded or state-regulated projects (e.g., California).

Nevada requires electric utilities to file an integrated resource plan (IRP) with the PUCN on or before June 1 every three years. The IRP requires the electric utility to present its plan for investments to the PUCN that will permit the utility to provide reliable service to its customers in a manner consistent with public policies over a 20-year planning period. A transmission plan and a distributed resources plan are two subsets of the overall IRP. The transmission plan provides a summary of the capabilities of the utility’s transmission system, including import and export limits and the capacity of significant electric transmission paths, and sets forth the utility’s transmission needs over the 20-year IRP analysis period. The distributed resources plan provides an analysis of the amount of distributed energy resources (DERs) that can be accommodated on each of the utility’s electric feeders, identifies any constraints or upgrades on the electric grid, and analyzes whether DERs may provide solutions to those constraints. 

There is, however, SB 329, passed by the 2019 legislature and signed by Gov. Sisolak, which requires electric utilities to submit natural disaster protection plans to the PUCN on or before June 1 every third year. SB 329 requires the natural disaster protection plans to contain procedures and protocols in relation to the utility’s efforts to prevent or respond to natural disasters.

URBAN PLANNING

Urban planning is a broad and complex category that is critically important to overall GHG reduction as well as adaptation planning. Globally, cities consume over 60% of all energy and account for 70% of GHG emissions. Embedded in urban planning are issues of transportation, transmission, green buildings, and land use. From an environmental, financial, and social perspective, resilience needs to be considered across multiple levels of governance, particularly as many of the decisions related to urban planning occur at the local level. Simply, decisions made at the local level can have tremendous impact on the state’s ability to meet GHG emissions-reduction targets and ensure the resilience of Nevada’s communities.

For example, a net-zero-emissions commercial building may actually have a large carbon footprint if it generates a large amount of VMTs for the workforce or if its construction reduces the carbon sequestration potential of the land it is built on. In addition, depending on the proximity of the residence to the workplace, actual costs for fuel and maintenance of vehicles has the potential to be higher when the person must travel further.

Decisions made at the local level can have tremendous impact on the state’s ability to meet GHG emissions-reduction targets and ensure the resilience of Nevada’s communities.

Balancing numerous needs is challenging to say the least, but an increased effort to understand the impacts and tradeoffs of urban planning and land-use decisions is critical not just to meet the state’s climate goals, but also to support economic development, equity, access, and quality of life goals. To that end, there are multiple issues that will require discussion, collaboration, and collective decision-making across state and local planning organizations.

One challenge requiring a coordinated effort is addressing extreme heat. Reno and Las Vegas are among the fastest-warming cities in the entire United States (Climate Central 2019). Climate change has increased temperatures across NV by about 2°F and the urban heat island effect (UHI) warmed the states major cities by an additional 3-5°F. One unique aspect of the UHI is that the temperature in one part of Las Vegas, for example, can be over 10ºF warmer than another part of town. Las Vegas has also been identified as the city with the most-intense UHI during both the daytime and the nighttime. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a useful interactive tool that shows the areas of the United States that have heightened vulnerability to extreme heat based on multiple socioeconomic indicators, including Southern Nevada. Indeed, a recent analysis shows that low-income households tend to live in hotter parts of both Las Vegas and Reno than wealthier families (NPR 2019).

Extreme heat in urban areas is clearly a social justice issue.

Extreme heat causes more fatalities each year than any other weather-related event, including hurricanes, floods, and wildfires (NOAA 2020). With income disparities in exposure to extreme heat in urban areas, this is clearly a social justice issue. The mortality risk during a heat wave is amplified by exposure to poor air quality (NCA 2018), which also maps to where lower-income communities are located in the urban areas of Nevada (Evolved Energy 2020, Figure 3.) Poor HVAC and inadequate construction of schools in historically marginalized communities is also resulting in underperformance of Black and Hispanic students on standardized tests on days where temperatures exceed 80ºF (Park et al., 2020).

Figure 3. Clark (Left) and Washoe (Right) Counties Census Tracks Ranked by Socioeconomic Vulnerability and Environmental Pollution (Source: Evolved Energy 2020)

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Nevadans are experiencing the impacts of extreme heat firsthand and many expressed grave concerns about exposure of marginalized and low-income community members, as well as outdoor workers, to extreme temperatures through the summer—particularly in Las Vegas. Participants in listening sessions advocated for increasing the urban tree canopy, creating more public green spaces, and re-developing and developing affordable green building design in low-income communities. Nevadans also highlighted in the listening sessions the need for financial assistance to pay for HVAC installation and to pay the power bills associated with running these systems on the hottest days of the year.

The disparate temperatures across Nevada’s major urban centers is largely the result of differences in landscape, urban design, materials used for construction, and relative elevation—all related to the UHI. According to a recent analysis by the Urban Land Institute, green spaces and urban tree canopies can effectively reduce localized temperatures. However, there are a few issues that need to be considered, particularly in desert environments. Specifically, any water requirements for landscaping is a concern given the how little precipitation falls across Nevada. Also, although trees reduce GHGs, if poorly designed, tree canopy can also trap other tailpipe emissions (NOx and PM2.5) and create hot spots of poor air quality (Gallagher 2015). Fortunately, these issues can all be overcome if urban forestry is carefully considered in planning and implementing UHI reduction strategies.

Through the lens of air quality, transportation also has a clear connection with smart design and planning strategies that can attenuate extreme heat while also improving air quality.

Through the lens of air quality, transportation also has a clear connection with smart design and planning strategies that can attenuate extreme heat while also improving air quality. Air quality is one of the top concerns of Nevadans, and those communities exposed to extreme heat also experience poor air quality (Figure 3). Fortunately, solutions that will improve air quality, reduce UHI effects, and reduce GHGs can be achieved by integrating mass transit, along with other modal options such as safe walking and biking, with urban planning and other strategies to reduce overall VMTs (cars and trucks).

Right now, the City of Las Vegas, Clark County, and the Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission are revisiting their master plans. Many of the considerations above are included in the draft documents, particularly issues related to urban forestry and sustainability. In 2019, the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan was updated to provide the framework for regional growth in Washoe County for the next 20 years. The plan focuses on the coordination of master planning in Reno, Sparks, and unincorporated Washoe County as it relates to population, regional form and land-use pattern, public facilities and service provision, natural resources, and intergovernmental coordination. Key components of the updated plan include urban growth tiering standards and stronger policies to coordinate land use decision-making with public facility investment in new growth areas and a collaborative effort to map natural resource areas that should be protected.

Coordination across regional organizations, municipalities, and the state can ensure that emerging policies are harmonized and optimized in order to reach GHG emissions-reduction goals, while also reconciling the disproportionate exposure of vulnerable communities to poor air quality and extreme heat. The role of cities, counties, and other local governments developing and implementing plans to minimize their carbon footprint within their growth planning is critical to Nevada’s overall efforts to mitigate GHG pollution and establish more-resilient communities in the face of climate change impacts that are already being felt.

That said, modernizing land-use regimes to better align with the state’s GHG emissions-reduction goals is a challenge requiring commitment from policy makers at all levels in Nevada. Attention should be paid to the GHG impacts of new development by both project proponents and relevant local governments. Projects that significantly increase overall GHG pollution should be mitigated or denied. While respecting the jurisdictional primacy of local governments for land-use decisions, state resources from a variety of agencies could be enhanced to provide technical modeling assistance and policy coordination.

Further, as we heard during the listening sessions, Nevada’s unique depreciation system for property tax assessment places tremendous fiscal pressure on local governments to incorporate newer housing product as replacement for the depreciating tax base of Nevada’s older neighborhoods. A fuller examination of tax policy and local government fiscal capacity from a climate perspective should be pursued.

GREEN BUILDINGS

Net-zero or low-carbon buildings is a nationwide conversation focused around increased efficiency in the built environment, reducing GHG emissions, and improving the performance of existing and future building stock. Increased efficiency in the built environment is recognized globally as a necessary step to aid in reducing GHG emissions. Without a comprehensive suite of policies that dramatically increase the efficiency of both existing and new buildings in Nevada, the state will not reach the net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

Policy options to optimize efficiency include building performance standards, beneficial electrification, alternative financing for the low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities, and education surrounding green building practices. However, the state has limited authority when it comes implementing building efficiency policies. Much the responsibility along with enforcement is executed and handled by local governments or authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs).

Without a comprehensive suite of policies that dramatically increase the efficiency of both existing and new buildings in Nevada, the state will not reach the net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

For example, increased adoption around energy building codes requires the local governments or AHJs to also adopt the state code, train building officials on the new requirements, provide tools and resources for continuity in implementation of the code, and offer continuing educational opportunities. This also necessitates that builders and trades understand the requirements under each new code so they also have the tools necessary to modify the planning process on a three- to four-year cycle.

The clearest benefit of adopting energy efficiency codes for new commercial and residential structures is cost. During initial construction is the most cost-effective time to ensure the highest level of efficiency has been achieved without additional financial burdens on the owners. Retrofitting to reconcile issues (e.g., poor insulation, inefficient HVAC systems, inadequate construction) can cost the owner an estimated two to four times more than the initial expense during construction depending on various factors. This estimate does not even consider the lost savings on energy bills.

However, there is also a need to support the retrofit of residential and commercial properties that perform poorly with respect to energy efficiency. This is particularly important in low-income neighborhoods that are disproportionately exposed to extreme heat and poor air quality. These communities not only need smart, affordable green design that will offset urban heat and reduce energy bills, but also access to air handling systems that can provide clean indoor air.

Green architecture and design, the relative location and height of buildings, even the color of materials used in construction, can play a key role in achieving energy efficiency while also reducing costs. For example, $1 billion in energy expenses could be avoided in a year if all commercial buildings in the United States had light-colored roofs. And the UHI increases cooling demand for a typical building by 13% on average, making green design all the more important.

In order to achieve increased energy efficiency across the built environment, there are challenges to navigate. Some of the policy options require discussion that would benefit from convening representatives from the state, industry, municipalities, and other stakeholders in order to determine a path forward that would serve the goals of multiple interests.

All stakeholders must have a voice, and the health of the most vulnerable populations cannot be sacrificed, nor should industry and labor be overburdened. During the listening sessions, multiple stakeholders expressed support for efficiency in the built environment. Nevadans also indicated that in order to be fair and equitable, the overall effectiveness and cost of energy efficiency programs or policies must be evaluated.

Shifting away from natural gas is necessary to meet the 2050 net-zero GHG emissions goal.

Shifting away from natural gas is necessary to meet the 2050 net-zero GHG emissions goal. While some voices in Nevada applaud a transition away from natural gas to renewables, others cited concerns about the impacts to low-income households, rural communities, and small business, citing the comparative cost of electricity and natural gas. Indeed, consumer choice is important, and there should be options for consumers while existing gas pipelines are available. However, new pipelines will only lock in emissions for years, compromising Nevada’s ability to meet emissions-reduction goals. There are also co-benefits to eliminating in-home gas stoves in particular. A growing body of research indicates that using natural gas indoors can lead to poor indoor air quality, compromising respiratory health. Low-income households are more prone to exposure to these conditions as result of aging, inefficient appliances, and could benefit from a shift to electric appliances. One study, for example, shows significant improvements in the health of low-income households that moved from conventional to green housing with electric appliances.

In order to manage the natural gas transition, the state could move forward with a phased approach, allowing consumers to still have the ability to choose between gas and electric on existing buildings and require an all-electric option in new construction. This would mitigate the need for costly investments in new gas pipelines and infrastructure and would provide a timeline of when this fuel source can be phased out to help achieving the state’s emissions-reduction goals. Decision-makers/policy-makers should consider giving the PUCN authority to evaluate natural gas resource needs in order to meet expected customer demand over a long-term planning horizon and similar to how electric utility needs are evaluated, and in the context of GHG emissions.

In order to meet Nevada’s goals, all avenues of emissions reductions must be considered and a long-term plan should be developed in the near term. Transitioning from domestic and commercial gas use and adopting all-electric standards will reduce negative health impacts and energy burden on LMI communities. Prioritizing equity and affordability for the most-vulnerable families, as well as ensuring that the current workforce is not displaced, will have the most positive impact.

LAND USE AND NATURAL &

WORKING LANDS

Natural and working lands represent both challenges and opportunities for addressing climate change in Nevada. They can function to sequester carbon emissions or serve as GHG emitters depending on landscape type and land management practices. To fully understand these dynamics and design appropriate land use policies that will also reduce GHG emissions, it is important to first accurately quantify the emissions and sequestration impacts of different changes to natural and working lands.

However, most contemporary tools for quantifying carbon-sequestration capacities of natural lands focus disproportionately on forest lands, and not the sagebrush and rangeland ecosystems prevalent across most of Nevada. Research is under way to make progress toward a more-accurate accounting of the carbon balance associated with the Nevada landscape, with a first step focused on native grasslands.

To fully understand these dynamics and design appropriate land use policies that will also reduce GHG emissions, it is important to first accurately quantify the emissions and sequestration impacts of different changes to natural and working lands.

Along the same lines, Nevada is also home to more wetland areas than generally perceived. Globally, wetlands generate more methane emissions than any other source and are a net emitter of GHGs (e.g., Moomaw et al., 2018). Nevada currently lacks a complete inventory of wetland systems, thereby limiting the state’s ability to accurately calculate carbon flux. Changes in soil, water, and ambient temperature can further alter the carbon balance of wetlands in either direction. Despite the complexities of GHG emissions associated with wetlands, these systems do provide ecosystem services including stormwater capture and infiltration, recreational opportunities, and refuge for wildlife.

Forests in Nevada can and do sequester carbon. However, burning forests and other vegetation releases GHGs back into the atmosphere, driving a short-term increase in emissions. The fire cycle in Nevada is markedly different than it was 100 years ago and has shifted even in the last several decades. The evolution of the contemporary fire cycle has been attributed to complex variables including the century-long federal practice of fire suppression and climate change. Poor forest and rangeland health, as well as increasing temperatures and drying vegetation—spanning both public and private land ownership boundaries—has impacted the fire regime with increased fuel loads. Expansion of pinyon-juniper woodlands and dramatic increases in annual, invasive species such as cheatgrass are replacing sagebrush and native habitats and vegetation communities. These changes are altering the timing, frequency, duration, and intensity of wildfires throughout the West, and ultimately, the fire management and suppression strategies.

Land management, particularly of forests and rangelands, is a focal point in the prevention and mitigation of the large-scale fires that have been impacting Nevada. This is particularly important for the protection of people and property at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), but also in ensuring that the landscape in Nevada does not become a net source of GHG emissions.

Undisturbed landscapes have the most potential to sequester carbon. However, there are examples of landscape degradation across Nevada that can compromise the natural processes that balance carbon between the atmosphere and the landscape. These include over-grazed land, non-reclaimed mining sites, and the lack of old-growth forests due to over-harvesting.

Maintaining the landscape’s integrity also has other benefits. For instance, desert “crusts” across the Southwest United States keep sand and soil on the ground, reducing the severity of wind-driven dust storms. These storms not only expose people to dust particles, but also heavy metal pollutants, chemicals, and bacteria that impact public health. This is one example of why land use and expanding the footprint of development, commercial, industrial, and outdoor recreation activities must be carefully considered.

Land-use decisions should consider evolving and emerging climate impacts. As Nevada grows and urban areas in particular expand to meet the demands of a growing population, communities and infrastructure will be increasingly exposed to climate-driven natural hazards.

Land-use decisions should consider evolving and emerging climate impacts. As Nevada grows and urban areas in particular expand to meet the demands of a growing population, communities and infrastructure will be increasingly exposed to climate-driven natural hazards. Beyond wildfire, for example, flooding also poses a risk. Both Reno and Las Vegas already experience urban flooding and are particularly vulnerable to increases in the frequency and size of flood events as the climate warms.

Nevada’s Unique Flora & Fauna

The impacts of climate change and land use on Nevada’s natural lands should also be considered in terms of flora and fauna. The Silver State has 309 endemic species of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth and ranks 11th in the United States for total species diversity. Nevada also ranks third in the nation for the highest number of species at-risk.

Situated along the Pacific Flyway, with a high diversity of habitat types, over 490 different species of birds have been recorded in the state. The spatial distribution of Nevada’s resources is wide, often with low density. However, places such as the Lahontan Valley concentrate large numbers of migrating shorebirds, and the Carson Valley is known for high numbers of overwintering raptors. The Nevada Division of Natural Heritage (NDNH) tracks and monitors over 600 species of flora and fauna throughout the 300+ mountain ranges, valleys, and basins located within the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered, Threatened, Proposed, and Candidate Species list currently contains 30 species. Several of those species are aquatic, and therefore dependent upon healthy watersheds.

It is also important to incorporate land use, among other issues, in planning for expansion of utility-scale solar and other clean energy infrastructure across Nevada. Indeed, from extraction of fossil fuels to power plant siting, many types of energy-related activities across the West have the potential to disturb the landscape. In Nevada, solar development can impact desert crusts, the endangered desert tortoise, and other important parts of the state’s ecosystems. All of these issues should be considered and balanced with the benefits to these same ecosystems (and Nevada’s communities) that can be realized by expanding renewable energy in order to achieve net-zero GHG emissions.

As siting of energy development in Nevada is predominantly on federally-managed public lands, the state’s role in decisions is largely confined to agency comments and reviewing land management plans for consistency with state and local plans under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). Better coordination of this engagement in federal processes by state agencies should be supported. In addition, this engagement should shift to a more-proactive “smart from the start” planning posture to enhance the state’s support of optimized siting that better balances clean energy goals with impacts to natural lands, cultural resources, recreation, wildlife, and other conservation values.

Creative solutions to land use and deployment of large-scale solar have been proposed, including using reclaimed mining lands and other degraded landscapes. However, as with any large-scale solar development, opportunities must also be considered for their proximity to and integration with existing and new electricity transmission infrastructure.

Expanding community and rooftop solar (recurring suggestions from participants in stakeholder listening sessions) are also possibilities. However, there is a concern with respect to the scaling of rooftop solar and its ability to meet Nevada’s forecasted load. In addition, there are policies in place to allow for residential and small commercial rooftop solar, but there is a policy gap to allow larger installations for parking lots and large rooftops on the customer side of the meter. Attention should be given to policy solutions that will allow for such installations to become more widespread. Distributed renewable generation has an important role to play in Nevada’s clean energy future, and is an important part of helping disadvantaged communities realize the benefits of the clean energy revolution. This is an important area for further evaluation by policymakers, electricity providers, and regulatory agencies in coordination with relevant stakeholder groups.

The contemporary pressures of growth, drought, limited water supply, and other impacts of climate change are threatening the continued resilience of Nevada’s traditional ranching and agricultural economies.

Nevada’s cultural heritage is deeply rooted in the ranching and agricultural production that facilitated westward expansion during the gold rush. Nevada’s rural communities are largely dependent upon, and committed to, preserving their cultural heritage and way of life. However, the contemporary pressures of growth, drought, limited water supply, and other impacts of climate change are threatening the continued resilience of Nevada’s traditional ranching and agricultural economies.

Multiple programs are in place to support rural communities that can help build resilience to climate-related threats. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for example, is working with livestock operators to create more flexibility and options for operators to use as responses to changing field conditions such as drought and wildfire. The Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) at the University of Nevada, Reno is identifying multiple species suitable for agricultural producers in Nevada under different climatic conditions. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Great Basin Plant Materials Center (GBPMC) in Fallon develops native plants for restoration purposes and researches different species that may be suitable for agricultural production.

Many of the concerns that Indigenous people voiced regarding climate change were connected to the land: invasive species, medicinal plants, traditional foods, water, and wildlands.

Tribal communities across Nevada are an important part of Nevada’s cultural heritage. The Washoe (Wa-She-Shu), Northern Paiute (Numu), Western Shoshone (Newe), and Southern Paiute (Nuwu) people have been living with and managing vast areas of Nevada for thousands of years. The Indigenous peoples of Nevada possess a unique knowledge and cultural understanding of the state’s climate and ecosystems that can be valuable resources for managing the landscape and achieving climate-action goals. During discussions supporting the development of the strategy, many of the concerns that Indigenous people voiced regarding climate change were connected to the land: invasive species, medicinal plants, traditional foods, water, and wildlands. Already, several tribes across the West and in Nevada are coordinating and developing plans to address climate change.

Any issue related to natural and working lands, as well as land use, requires involvement from and collaboration with federal land management agencies, owing to the large amount of public land in Nevada.

Any issue related to natural and working lands, as well as land use, requires involvement from and collaboration with federal land management agencies, owing to the large amount of public land in Nevada. More than 85% of lands in Nevada are managed and administered by federal land management agencies such as the BLM and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) alongside other federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NRCS, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Agriculture, (DoA), Department of Energy (DoE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Park Service (NPS), and others.

There have been successful collaborations between federal agencies and state entities that can be leveraged and provide models for how to address new and emerging challenges that climate change pose to public and private lands. One example is Nevada’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Council (SEC), which represents the successful application of a Nevada Conservation Credit System (CCS) to mitigate disturbances such as mining and geothermal development on state, federal, and privately-owned land. The success of this effort is a model largely based on the coalition of interagency researchers coupled with private citizens, industry, and academia. Such examples can used to define best practices for further efforts involving multiple interests.

Land pressures from climate change and urbanization will continue as Nevada grows and the climate continues to change. Collaborative, multi-disciplinary, science-based approaches that address issues across jurisdictional boundaries are needed to ensure that Nevada’s lands are being used responsibly while protecting ecosystems and natural resources. Better land-use planning will require active coordination among federal, state, tribal, and local governments and private-property owners in order to accomplish Nevada’s climate action goals.