Nevada lawmakers, regulators and experts consider state’s electric transportation future

by Brian Bahouth

A Tesla Model 3. Attendees at the Nevada Electric Transportation Forum could test drive several electric vehicles - image - Nevada Capital News

Reno – On Friday morning outside the Innevation Center in Reno there was an electric bus and an electric cargo truck at the curb, several electric cars in the parking lot, and even an electric scooter.  Those who attended the second annual Nevada Electric Transportation Forum could test drive and otherwise inspect the many vehicles before moving inside to hear talks from several dignitaries in the Nevada renewable energy community and participate in a series of panel discussions.

The primary event sponsors were the Innevation Center, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), Ceres, and NV Energy.

Rebecca Wagner was emcee.  Wagner is a former member of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) and is now an energy policy consultant.

David Bobzien, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy gave welcoming remarks.  PUCN Commissioner Ann Pongracz gave the keynote address, and Nevada state Senator Chris Brooks was the featured speaker.

There were panel discussions that included audience questions in five topic areas regarding electric transportation, and discrete audio of each discussion and talk is available below.

In his remarks, David Bobzien gave an update on the status of the Nevada Electric Highway initiative.  In June of 2015, then Governor Brian Sandoval announced the plan to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure to initially connect the urban centers in Washoe and Clark counties on I-95, but the ultimate goal of the initiative is to place a charging station every fifty miles on all of Nevada’s major corridors by 2020 to include I-95, I-15, I-80 and US Highways 93 and 50.

“To date there are 7 active projects with another 17 in the development phase for a total of around 38 sites,” Bobzien said.  “We’re also engaged in what’s known as Rev West, the Regional Electric Vehicle West plans signed on to in 2017 that includes 8 inter-mountain west states, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho.

“The purpose is to allow EV drivers to seamlessly drive across the signatory states along the major transportation corridors.  This is a group that meets monthly to collaborate and share ideas. Nevada is co-chair of the group, along with Colorado,and we’ll start to notice a theme that we’ve got some emerging states that are leaders, and Nevada is in that peer group.”

Hear David Bobzien’s talk at the Nevada Electric Transportation Forum …

Several times during the half-day of presentations and discussions, attendees and experts expressed the need for leadership from the state government as a critical element in better establishing a robust electric transportation infrastructure in Nevada.

“We have to learn new ways to partner, new ways to share information and perspectives,” Bobzien said.  “The private sector, particularly the startup world, has to learn and understand how difficult the legal and regulatory landscape can be, and perhaps more importantly, why it’s there in the first place.  The public sector, and I mean legislators, regulators, agency types like myself and local elected officials have to learn about these technologies and the ways things have been done in government in the past have to adapt to this change.”  

Must read: a report from the Governor’s office of Energy – Electrifying Nevada’s 21st Century Transportation System.

Nevada state Senator Chris Brooks is a Democrat from Las Vegas and in his brief time as a Nevada lawmaker has emerged as a renewable energy leader.  Brooks is a veteran of the solar energy industry and started the first solar technology installation company in the Las Vegas valley.  He subsequently worked for Bombard Renewable Energy and became known among lawmakers and others as a deep resource for solar energy knowledge.  Brooks was elected to the Nevada Assembly in 2016 and appointed to the Nevada Senate in December of 2018. He began his talk with candor.

Hear Senator Chris Brooks talk at the Nevada Electric Transportation Forum.  Kyle Davis offers the introduction …

“Friends, we are in a climate catastrophe,” Brooks said.  “We are witnessing mass extinctions.  The oceans are warming.  Fish are dying. Corral reefs are dying.  Forests across the west are on fire killing our neighbors, wiping entire communities off the map.  A significant part of our very sensitive habitat here in the sate has burned.  We’re seeing historic droughts in the southwest while other parts of our nation are experiencing floods and hurricanes, and our neighbors, our fellow Americans and people across this world are dying already because of climate.”

“The mighty Colorado River is drying up before our very eyes,” Brooks said with a sense of urgency.

Senator Chris Brooks speaking at the 2019 Nevada Electric Transportation Forum – image – Nevada Capital News

Senator Books referred to the monetary costs of climate change for Nevada and the world as “staggering” and that the nation’s security is at risk from the effects of a warming planet.

“I don’t know if I can overstate enough how important and imperative it is that we act,” Brooks said.

Governor Sisolak’s State of the State Address contained strong language regarding climate change and its causes. Brooks echoed the governor’s comments and said he will not spend a minute debating whether anthropogenic climate change was real.  Brooks said he has a moral responsibility to take action on climate change and income inequality in 2019.

“I think the 2 biggest problems that face our state, our nation, our planet today are climate change, this climate catastrophe and income inequality.  I feel it is my moral obligation to do what I can to try and make the planet livable for my children and my grandchildren.”

There are numerous Bill Draft Requests and bills in the cue for the for the 2019 legislative session that address in one way or another the effects or causes of climate change, but Brooks noted that the state has no unified plan to reduce carbon emissions.  He said he applauds both houses of the Legislature for forming the joint Growth and Infrastructure committee and added that he plans to introduce a carbon reduction plan.

“I’m going to introduce a carbon reduction plan and really try to get to the heart of this.  It would apply across our entire economy, and it would recognize carbon emitters and the way that they’re emitting.”

Brooks said he was working on the plan with many people in the room, a plan that would set clear carbon reduction goals for Nevada.

“The mandate would be to reduce Greenhouse Gas emission by 28 percent by 2025 and reduce Greenhouse Gas emission by at least 45 percent by 2030 and a goal to get to zero by 2050, and it would direct the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection as well as all the other agencies in the state to create a plan to get to that place and to comply with that mandate.  This is all very possible,” Brooks said with emphasis.

Senator Brooks said that increasing the amount of renewable sources of energy that contribute to the electrical power grid along with the electrification of transportation in the state would put a big dent in Nevada’s carbon footprint.

“The low-hanging fruit is transportation.  We have to address transportation.  electrification of the transportation sector is the absolute best tool for rapid decarbonisation.”

Brooks called for zero and low emission vehicle standards and incentives to spur ownership.

“We need zero and low emission vehicle standards.  We need to incentivize the ownership of EVs.  Now that doesn’t necessarily mean money, and that doesn’t necessarily mean credits and tax credits and things like that, but we definitely need to incentivize it.  We need to electrify fleets and build charging infrastructure.”

Brooks called for a more equitable mechanisms to fund the highway fund.

“Right now, if we want to build roads, we need to sell gas.  That needs to be decoupled.  That’s a disconnect, and what technology suffers in that scenario?  High-efficiency vehicles, especially electric vehicles, and so we will see come out of the Nevada Legislature one or more bills that’ll tax EVs.  ‘That’ll take care of it.’  That to me seems to be counter-productive, and it doesn’t even address the fairness issue associated with funding the highways with gas tax.”

For much more from Chris Brooks, listen to the audio interview above.

Anne Pograncz gave the keynote address.  Pongracz has served as a PUCN commissioner since October of 2014.  She practiced government and regulatory relations law for more than 30 years with a focus on regulation, competition, infrastructure development, interconnection and pricing issues.  Pongracz also worked for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and negotiated agreements with Tesla, Apple and other companies doing business in Nevada.

Pongracz said they conducted a survey of forum attendees.  The first question asked when were the first electric vehicles manufactured and marketed in the US?

Hear an audio recording of Ann Pongracz’s talk to the Nevada Electric Transportation Forum …

“This is a pretty technical group because a lot of you knew the first time we had practically available EVs in the country was the turn of the prior century.  They started being marketed even in the late 1800s and by 1910 there were a number of practically available EVs in the marketplace.”

Ann Pongracz is a commissioner on the Public Utility Commission of Nevada speaking at the 2019 Nevada Electric Transportation Forum – image – Nevada Capital News.

Second question: How many Nevadans drive EVs?  

“We have, in the fleet in Nevada today, 4,280 EVs.  Unfortunately, that is less than one percent of vehicles in the state,” Pongracz said.

Commissioner Pongracz exhorted attendees to think about what they wanted regarding electric vehicles.  She asked a series of questions to the audience.

“So figure out who can give you what you want. What entities have the the power to determine whether your electric transportation goals will be met by 2030,” Pongracz said.  “Is it the Nevada state Legislature? Is it Nevada regional governments and local organizations like the RTCs? Do we have to go to congress? Is there something the PUC can do? How about electric utilities, what role do they play?  How do you work with electric utilities? Are there other regulated entities that are involved? Automobile manufacturers, battery manufacturers, even manufacturers of the surface street infrastructure projects. Anybody who wants to sell something into this market has a stake in us moving forward.   Get to know who they are, they may be able to help. Understand the opposition. What does the opposition want and why do they want it? What are they willing to give you in order to get what they want? Why do they want what they want? Is there anything that you can do to help them get what they want while they can help you get what you want?  Don’t hesitate to talk with the people who disagree with you, if they’re willing to.”

The Health and Environmental Benefits panel discussion:

The moderator is Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (AD24).  Panelists are Daniel Inouye of the Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division; Matt Frommer, senior transportation associate for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project or SWEEP; and Rudy Zamora, program director for Chispa Nevada.

Rudy Zamora, Matt Frommer and Daniel Inouye, panel members for the discussion of the health and environmental benefits of electric transportation – image – Nevada Capital News.

Hear an audio recording of the health and environmental benefits of electric transportation panel discussion …

Economic Benefits Panel Discussion:

The moderator was Assemblyman Howard Watts (AD15).  Panelists were Sara Forni, senior manager clean vehicle programs for CERES; Cameron Dyer is a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates; and Chris Reilly is workforce development and education programs for Tesla.

Sara Forni, Cameron Dyer, Chris Reilly, and Howard Watts – image – Nevada Capital News.

Hear an audio recording of the economic benefits panel discussion …

Legislation and Public Policy Panel Discussion

The moderator was Kyle Davis, president of Davis Strategies.  Panelists were Marie Steele and Lauren Rosenblatt, principals at E-Centricity; Matt Frommer, senior transportation associate, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project; and Dylan Sullivan, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Hear an audio recording of the legislation and public policy panel discussion …

An electric bus in the RTC Washoe County public transportation system, one of 17 such vehicles – image – Nevada Capital News

Nevada Diesel Emission Mitigation Fund Panel Discussion 

Presenters: Jeff Kinder, deputy administrator, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP) and Danilo Dragoni, chief Bureau of Air Quality Planning, NDEP.

Consumer Experience Presentation

Presenters: John Sagebiel, Ph.D, assistant director, Environmental Program, University of Nevada Reno and Joel Levin, executive director, Plug In America.

Jim O’Connell of electric vehicle maker Adomani shows Nevada state Senator Chris Brooks an electric cab-over-engine truck – image – Nevada Capital News
A Washoe County EV – image – Nevada Capital News
The charging connection port on an RTC Washoe County electric bus – image – Nevada Capital News