Nevada Electric Transportation Forum set for Friday

by Brian Bahouth

A 2019 Chevy Bolt EV at Champion Chevrolet in Reno, NV - image - Brian Bahouth/the Ally

Reno – This Friday the Innevation Center in Reno, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), Ceres, and NV Energy, present the second annual Nevada Electric Transportation Forum.  The event is sold out but a live video stream of the proceedings will be available. For details on the event, we stopped by the Innevation Center and spoke with Tom Polikalas of SWEEP about the upcoming forum and how increased numbers of electric vehicles would strengthen Nevada’s economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect public health. 

Hear a wide-ranging conversation about the forum and electric transportation with Tom Polikalas … 

The forum runs from 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  Attendees will be able to test drive electric cars and watch panel discussions and talks featuring key lawmakers, regulators and experts.  Below is an annotated version of the agenda to include quotes from event organizer Tom Polikalas.

Call to Order and Recognitions

9:00 – Rebecca Wagner will call the forum to order.  Wagner is a former commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada.

Welcoming Remarks

David Bobzein will offer welcoming remarks.  Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak recently appointed the former Assemblyman, former Reno City Council member and environmental advocate David Bobzein as Director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy (GOE), and the GOE under Bobzein was quick to publish a detailed report earlier this month titled Electrifying Nevada’s 21st Century Transportation System.  

The report  identifies “sixteen objectives supporting five transportation goals.”   The first step is to set an express policy mandate that electric transportation is a priority and then create an agency to lead efforts to further develop the use of electric powered transportation in Nevada.  The goal as stated in the report:

Nevada is working to establish itself as a transportation leader that supports advanced, overwhelmingly electrified, transportation technologies for mobility and connectivity across the State.

Keynote Address

Ann Pongracz, commissioner, Public Utilities Commission of Nevada will give the keynote speech.  The PUCN regulates some 400 investor-owned public utilities in Nevada and in May of 2018 the PUCN authorized NV Energy to operate charging stations and include them in their rate base, which will be subject to future “rate filings” and other PUCN scrutiny.  Whether to authorize a publicly regulated energy utility to branch off into the fueling of automobiles using publicly funded charging stations is a controversial topic and one likely to be considered during the 2019 Nevada Legislative Session and at the PUCN directly.

Health and Environmental Benefits of Electric Transportation

Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (AD24) will moderate a session on Health and Environmental benefits of electric vehicles.  At a climate science forum in December at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Julie Hunter, Senior Air Quality Specialist for Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division, said Washoe County is on the brink of failing to meet federal air quality standards for several pollutants and that the economic impacts have already been significant. Hunter said the reason Starbucks coffee roasting plant did not locate in Washoe County and instead built the facility in Douglas County was due to the poor air quality in the Reno area and the tighter regulatory landscape under the Washoe County regulation, a more heavily populated region. 

More electric and fewer internal combustion vehicles would benefit both of Nevada’s largest urban areas.  In 2018, Clark County was in non-partial compliance with federal Clean Air Act standards for ozone.

Members of the panel to discuss the impacts electric modes of transportation have on public health will be Daniel Inouye, Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division, Matt Frommer, Senior Transportation Associate, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, and Rudy Zamora, Program Director Chispa Nevada.

The engine compartment on a 2019 Chevy Bolt EV at Champion Chevrolet in Reno, Nevada – image – Brian Bahouth

Economic Benefits

Economic development and the benefit of a more robust electric vehicle industry is a focus of the forum.  Assemblyman Howard Watts (AD15) will moderate a discussion on the economic benefits of electric transportation. Panel members include Sara Forni, Senior Manager, Clean Vehicles Programs for CERES; Cameron Dyer, Staff Attorney, Western Resource Advocates; and Chris Riley, Workforce Development & Education Programs for Tesla.

Nevada Electric Highway

On June 16, 2015, Governor Brian Sandoval announced the Nevada Electric Highway initiative.  A joint program undertaken by NV Energy and the State of Nevada intended to expand the state’s charging infrastructure to support electric vehicle owners by connecting the urban centers in Clark and Washoe counties.  To comply with the federal FAST Act, the Nevada Electric Highway plans to have charging stations every 50 miles.

Governor Sandoval incorporated the electric road plan into the 2016 Strategic Planning Framework for Nevada and appointed the GOE to lead the effort to provide charging infrastructure on all of the State’s major highways by 2020 to include the I-95 corridor, I-15, I-80 and US Highways 93 and 50. 

According to the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy, there are multiple funding sources to support the charging stations for the Electric Highway, and primary among these is Nevada’s portion of the VW Fund, a settlement from Volkswagen with the U.S. government concerning diesel emissions standards violations.  Nevada is expected to receive a total of some $24 million dollars from VW over time.  A third source of charging station funding comes from fees collected from ratepayers for incentives offered under the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Demonstration Program.  The Governor’s Office of Energy also manages federal and state grants that could help fund the charging stations.

Under Governor Sisolak it appears the plan to build out EV support infrastructure across the state will continue and expand.  The following is from the GOE report titled Electrifying Nevada’s 21st Century Transportation System“GOE leadership is leveraging the commitment to the Nevada Electric Highway by simultaneously leading, as the co-chair, the Regional Electric Vehicle “REV” West Plan to coordinate priority corridors and technical standards for electric vehicle charging.”

For Tom Polikalas of SWEEP, making Nevada’s major highways EV friendly is good for attracting tourists from California where the percentage of EV ownership is high.

“Proportionally-based implementation of electric vehicles across the country, California is the largest market … we know there are a lot of folks in California who have electric vehicles, and for our tourism industry, we want to bring them to Nevada,” Polikalas said.

And more, when tourists come to Nevada in electric vehicles, Polikalas said air quality does not suffer.  Nevada casinos are leaders in accommodating electric vehicles.

“The hospitality industry has been really good.  They recognize there is a great consumer base that’s interested in this technology, so whether it be Peppermill … I would hazard to guess that every major casino in the area has electric vehicle charging stations.  The Atlantis hosted some Tesla Super-charging stations.  That was back a couple years ago, so the gaming industry gets it,” Polikalas said.

The motor of a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle – image – Brian Bahouth

Legislation and Public Policy

Kyle Davis, president of Davis Strategies will moderate a session on Legislation and Public Policy.  Panelists will be Marie Steele and Lauren Rosenblatt, principals at E-Centricity; Matt Frommer, senior transportation associate; and Dylan Sullivan, senior scientist Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earlier this month in Colorado, Governor Jared Polis issued his first executive order directing the state’s Air Quality Control Commission to consider adopting standards that would accelerate the deployment of clean vehicles. The standards, known as the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, would require roughly seven percent of new vehicle sales be zero emission or plug-in electric vehicles by 2025, so it would not be a surprise to see a similar effort in Nevada in 2019.

Among the many renewable energy bills floated and passed during the 2017 Nevada Legislative Session, a few were intended to foster and continue the development of electric vehicles in Nevada.  What the 2019 session holds for EV legislation remains to be seen, but the Sisolak administration is likely to be even more aggressive than former Governor Sandoval in the development of electric transportation in Nevada.

SB 145 – Section 1.4 of this bill creates the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Demonstration Program; requires the Commission to adopt regulations concerning the Program; and authorizes each utility to recover the costs of carrying out the Program.  Funding for charging stations on the Nevada Electric Highway are partly allocated through this legislation.

AB 398 –  relating to taxes on retail sales; providing a temporary exemption from the Local School Support Tax and certain analogous taxes on retail sales of electric vehicles in effect until September 30, 2019.  This bill amends the Local School Support Tax Law to exempt certain electric vehicles from all but two percent of the taxes on retail sales. This tax exemption becomes effective on October 1, 2017, and expires by limitation on September 30, 4 2019.

AB 416 –  Sets priorities for the reinvestment of VW settlement money.  This bill requires the Division of Environmental Protection of the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in consultation with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation, to develop a program for distributing money from the Mitigation Trust to assist residents of this State and local governmental entities in this State in repowering the engines of certain vehicles with new diesel, alternate fueled or all-electric engines, or replacing certain vehicles with new diesel, alternate fueled or all-electric vehicles, to the extent that such repowering or replacing is authorized by the terms of the consent decrees.

Consumer Experience

Forum attendees will be able to test drive several electric vehicles, and for Tom Polikalas, the experience is an eye opener, especially for those who like a vehicle with good acceleration.  Polikals told a story about the president of the Nevada-based clean energy company Electra Therm who owns a Nissan Leaf.

“Put four of us big guys into the Leaf, and I’m think it’s going to bog it down, but not so much.  It’s like amazingly quick.  You’ve got all this immediate acceleration, so for some of who like quick acceleration, electric cars are like really really fun,” Polikalas said.  “They’re really responsive, and if you’ve been behind the wheel, you are part of a very small minority of drivers that have been behind the wheel.”

Featured Speaker

Nevada State Senator Chris Brooks (SD3) will be the featured speaker.  From 2007 to 2009, Brooks was a solar industry representative on the Nevada Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Task Force.  Elected to the Nevada State Assembly in 2016, Chris Brooks distinguished himself as a champion of renewable energy.  Brooks is vice Chair of the interim Legislative Committee on Energy and was appointed to the Nevada Senate representing District 3 on December 4, 2018.