With the Bill’s Passage Cast in Doubt, An Opportunity to Strengthen Nevada’s Leadership Role in the American West Could Vanish With It.
This weekend, the prospect for passage of the Build Back Better Act was put in jeopardy after Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) publicly ruled out supporting the legislation as written.
The bill had already passed the US House of Representatives and up until this point was being deliberated in the Senate. But without Sen. Manchin’s support for the bill in an evenly-divided Senate chamber, the state of Nevada would lose out on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to play a leading role in the American West’s burgeoning clean energy economy.
“The Build Back Better Act would save Nevada homeowners up to $500 a year by 2030 in energy bills,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director of EDF Action. “By creating almost $300 billion in tax incentives for utilities to move toward clean energy generation, utilities would invest more in plants and equipment that generate renewable energy. When you invest in renewable energy, you lower the cost of both its production and the costs for consumers, because there’s going to be rebates available to consumers when they switch to more energy-efficient appliances.”
In recent years, Nevada had already taken the lead on a number of green energy initiatives. However, the Build Back Better Act would create a unique opportunity for the Silver State to solidify its role as a green energy leader in the American West.
“Nevada is primed to go from 6th in the nation in solar installation to number one with the right kind of planning and investments,” Moran said. “Right now, there’s enough solar installations in Nevada to power nearly 700,000 homes, and the Build Back Better Act would help further develop renewable energy in Nevada and provide an estimated 922 jobs per year going forward.”
According to Moran, the job opportunities that would be created are a key component to the Build Back Better Act in its current version. While currently ranked 29th in the nation for clean energy jobs, Nevada would see the corollary benefits of the job creation needed to transform the energy industry.
“If you think about the entire supply chain for clean energy, there’s going to be good-paying jobs in each part of that process,” Moran said. “States are going to be competing to manufacture the components of clean energy, like solar panels and electric vehicles. So there’s a need for everything from manufacturing and transportation jobs, to highly-skilled technicians to install solar energy panels and modernize the electric grid based on renewable energy investments on the front end. So there would be jobs along the entire chain that delivers energy to people and businesses across Nevada.”
Nevada has already proven itself as a leader through the creation of the Nevada Electric Highway, a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Governor’s Office of Energy, NV Energy, and the Valley Electric Association to install electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across all of the state’s major highway corridors.
“There’s already 11,040 electric vehicles on the road in Nevada today because people are starting to see the possibility of a future where they’re not paying for gas,” Moran said. “The Build Back Better Act would expand charging networks and provide incentives for discounted energy rates and rebates for installing at-home electric vehicle chargers. That’s a package of proposals that would make electric vehicles even more viable and accelerate that transition for consumers in a shorter timeframe than the current situation.”
Additionally, within the current version of the bill was a provision that would increase the tax credit available to consumers that purchase an electric vehicle.
“[That provision] would increase the credit available to an electric vehicle purchaser to as much as $12,500 in a refundable tax credit,” Moran said. “We’re hopeful that provision will stay in the bill, because if it does it would certainly be an important incentive for Nevada drivers.”
Another major component included funding for water recycling projects. This funding would arrive after Nevada experienced its most severe drought in 20 years in 2021, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Otherwise known as water reclamation or water reuse, funding for water recycling projects within the Build Back Better Act would develop and create new opportunities for drought-stricken cities in the West to sustain their water needs.
“There’s a wastewater recycling project right now in Los Angeles by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that services over 19 million people,” Moran said. “That allows for less water to be taken from the Colorado River and over to Southern California. This creates a water supply that Southern California can use and that leaves more water in the river for ecosystem health and gives more water security to Nevadans. It does require regional collaboration and significant upfront investment, which the Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s already law, would provide.”
The Build Back Better Act would follow the recently passed Investment, Infrastructure, and Jobs Act, often referred to as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“The Build Back Better Act would build on the Investment, Infrastructure and Jobs Act by accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy,” Moran said. “Those tax credits and incentives for the generation of renewable energy are at a much bigger scale in the Build Back Better Act. That’s needed given the climate crisis and our need to reduce the sources of the warming climate, so these incentives for clean energy generation and grid modernization would take it to a whole other level.”
One target beneficiary of the proposed Build Back Better Act is rural communities, of which Nevada’s rural communities in particular stand to benefit.
“There would be targeted loans and grants available to rural communities that would have facilitated the transition to clean energy, acquisition and use and efficiency of buildings,” Moran said. “There would also be targeted grants and loans available for rural communities, principally through the US Department of Agriculture, to provide resources for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to get compensated for supporting the efforts that already reduce climate emissions.”
The opportunities that would be created by the passage of the Build Back Better Act would signify an important step forward in addressing the effects of climate change now being experienced across the western United States.
“We’ve come from a place where climate change was either an academic debate or a political football, but now, it’s just barging down the front door in the American West,” Moran said. “Both Nevada and the Colorado River Basin are ground zero for the effects of climate change. We have to take on the underlying cause of drought, wildfire and extreme heat by reducing climate emissions as much as possible, as fast as possible, and do it in a way that works for western communities and consumers.”
But looking ahead, now that the prospective passage of formative legislation is cast in doubt, the state of Nevada may be missing out on a pivotal opportunity to mitigate climate change’s effects and create a stronger future as a green energy leader in the western United States.
“By expanding solar production and generation, solar installations by Nevada-based companies would continue to grow in that sector by providing those services to a wider geography in the West,” Moran said. “The second opportunity for Nevada really would be to be a model for clean transportation. The Nevada Electric Highway is groundbreaking and farsighted and that’s the kind of thing that Nevada can model the way on. As Nevada does that, there’s going to be benefits both in terms of cleaner air and of savings to Nevada drivers.”
On a more local level, the city of Las Vegas has already found itself as a beacon for drought-stricken cities looking to implement water conservation strategies to satisfy the needs of their communities.
“The Southern Nevada Water Authority and the city of Las Vegas is a recognized leader in water conservation,” Moran said. “They have demonstrated how to [conserve water] effectively and get residents on board. Other communities in the West need to learn from Nevada, and would be able to pull down some of the federal money in the Build Back Better Act to do those smart water stewardship projects.”
But now, the future of the Build Back Better Act remains uncertain. While another version of the bill could still be written and considered, the time it will take for its ultimate passage may be prolonged. However, prospective passage of such significant legislation would harken back to another time when the United States rose to a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
“In 1940, the United States of America produced less than 5% of the world’s manufactured goods, but by 1945, the United States produced over 80% of the world’s manufactured goods,” Moran said. “We’re at a time where it’s easy to be cynical and distrustful of ideas and government. but we’re the United States of America. We can do big things and that’s the kind of challenge we face. Failure is not an option and the Build Back Better Act is the thing we need to do next.”
Scott King writes about science and the environment for the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his work.
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