Nevada’s path to reducing pollution from power plants, as mandated by the Clean Air Act, should have been a powerful opportunity to bolster the environmental and economic health of low-income communities, communities of color and, indeed, all Nevadans. But when the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection held hearings last week on implementing the Clean Air Act regulations known as the Clean Power Plan, its hands were tied.
The Clean Power Plan sets state-by-state targets for cutting carbon emissions from power plants, but leaves states free to choose how best to achieve these cuts. Nevada could, for example, opt to close our state’s dirtiest power plants and in doing so, reduce the alarmingly high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses among those unfortunate enough to live nearby. The state could offer incentives for consumers using renewable energy and increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, or increase investment in renewable energy, injecting much-needed money and employment opportunities into our communities
But a rule change hastily approved by the Public Utilities Commission, while most Nevadans were distracted by the holidays, has effectively shut down one of our state’s best options for meeting the goals set out in the Clean Power Plan. That rule drastically cut the amount of money individuals can receive for selling power from rooftop solar panels back to the grid, for use by other NV Energy customers. The commission also let NV Energy dramatically hike monthly fees charged to rooftop solar owners, devastating families like mine and radically recalibrating the incentives that could have spurred our state’s clean energy economy.
Those incentives were powerful, enabling rooftop solar owners to be a part of the creation of both a greener and more financially secure community. The program allowed us to play an active role in making our state’s air cleaner, without major financial sacrifice. As a bonus, the burgeoning solar industry was bringing new jobs to our state. Too many Americans, for fear of the cost, don’t do what they can to address climate change. Nevada’s program gave consumers the option to go solar.
Nevada could have been an example for the nation. The abundance of sun and wind give us nearly unparalleled potential for investment in renewable energy. Bipartisan support of clean energy proposals, coupled with a workforce eager for new and better employment opportunities, gives our state the best political and economic climate for reducing reliance on dirty power. As the NDEP considers the best path toward cleaner energy for our state, we could have been an example of how environmental protection and economic security for everyone can go hand-in-hand.
Instead, Nevada risks demonstrating to the rest of the nation the dangers of giving a corporate entity such as the Public Utilities Commission, too much control of our environmental and economic future. We risk proving what happens when our elected leaders step out of the way and let the utilities regulate themselves. This should not be the legacy that Gov. Sandoval should want, and it’s not the reputation our great state deserves.
There is still an opportunity to fight back. Along with the meetings held last week in Las Vegas, the NDEP is holding meetings this week in Reno to get community input on implementation of the Clean Power Plan. Now is the time to have your voice heard. Community organizations such as the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada will stand with representatives from low-income communities and communities of color as they tell their stories to the NDEP. The agency needs to hear about the opportunities lost by not investing in renewable energy; it needs to hear about the economic insecurity and health costs incurred by our dependence on dirty energy.
Only then will those who are supposed to act on our behalf undo this disastrous rule change on solar energy. Only then will our leaders stand up and lead.
— AJ Buhay is field director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.