NV Energy is working to formulate a plan on how to mitigate and respond to events like wildfires and severe storms.
The utility has been formulating its Natural Disaster Protection Plan alongside state agencies and emergency response organizations, and is looking for additional feedback from the public this week.
According to Mark Regan, NV Energy’s fire mitigation specialist, the plan is all about minimizing risks and making sure the utility’s infrastructure can withstand — as well as recover from — natural disasters.
“The end result is going to be better-prepared communities across the state of Nevada and a safer, more reliable (power) system,” Regan said.
Regan said these sort of plans are becoming more commonplace for utilities across the country as the effects of climate change intensify.
A 2016 report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency found Nevada has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. That, combined with the fact that climate change is expected to decrease the flow of water to the Colorado River, could make for more frequent and more intense wildfires, according to the EPA.
“We’re seeing an increase in wildfires across the nation because of the climate changing,” Regan said. “We have to be able to make changes, adapt to the change of the weather and harden our infrastructure to withstand the different elements that are changing the weather.”
Kristen Averyt, a UNLV research professor with expertise in climate resilience and sustainability, said it’s imperative that communities plan for the worst.
“Climate change can exacerbate wildfire risks, particularly in the Mount Charleston and Lake Tahoe area” Averyt said. “I’m encouraged that NV Energy is going through this exercise.”
Senate Bill 329, which was passed by the 2019 state legislature, requires NV Energy to develop a natural disaster plan and submit it to the state’s Public Utilities Commission by the first of June every three years.
While NV Energy already had an internal corporate response plan in place, the mandated plan would go into more detail and break down responses and proactive approaches for different types of disasters.
Regan said this should help the utility have faster, better responses to disasters.
To help construct this plan, NV Energy turned to stakeholders like local and regional fire districts, the Nevada Department of Public Safety, telecommunication companies, the Nevada Division of State Lands, the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and more.
“We were able to pull in over 150 different stakeholders,” Regan said.
Under a draft of the plan, Regan said, the utility would identify high-risk geographic areas, implement more durable equipment with less ignition risks, remove even more vegetation around power lines and poles and use more advanced technology like weather stations and fire cameras, among other steps.
If disaster does strike, NV Energy could turn off energy to certain sections of circuits to mitigate the risk of fire. The utility said this would be a last resort.
According to a filing with the commission, the plan does not establish or increase any fees. The plan is still under development, and isn’t required to be submitted to the PUC until March 1.
The public will have an opportunity this week to provide feedback on this plan. There will be a meeting Tuesday at the East Las Vegas Library at 2851 E. Bonanza Road from 5 to 7 p.m.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the meeting at the East Las Vegas Library would be held Thursday.