Southwest Gas pushes back on Assemblywoman Cohen’s ‘responsible energy plan’

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By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

Las Vegas-based Southwest Gas Corp., is pushing back against a proposal in the Nevada Legislature that would require gas utility companies to prove spending on new gas systems of energy is cost-effective and conforms with long term climate and energy plans, a Southwest Gas representative said on Nevada Newsmakers.

The Legislature in 2019 put Nevada on a path to a net-zero emission standard by 2050. But Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen’s 2021 proposal on future energy planning would favor clean electrical energy, ban natural gas in future home and commercial construction plus increase costs for new home buyers, businesses and current home owners, Southwest Gas contends.

It could also lead to the demise of the natural-gas industry in Nevada, Scott Leedom, director of public affairs for Southwest Gas, told host Sam Shad.

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“It is a mandate for electrification,” Leedom said. “The legislation will eliminate customer choice, reduce energy reliability, increase green-house gas emissions, increase customers’ bills and eliminate good paying jobs.”

Cohen, D-Henderson, is proposing legislation that would require Southwest Gas and others to file plans every three years about future gas investments, including cost and benefit comparisons of other options, including electricity. In an op-ed published in the Nevada Independent, Cohen writes that her bill is modeled after Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Climate Initiative which calls for the gradual move away from residential and commercial use of natural gas.

“The latest climate science, energy modeling, and Gov. Sisolak’s own Climate Strategy demonstrate the need to transition away from the use of methane gas (otherwise known as ‘natural’ gas) and other fossil fuels over time,” Cohen wrote in the Independent.”

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Yet Cohen’s proposal is so wide-ranging that it should first require an impact study, Leedom said.

“We just feel that is unreasonable and irresponsible to enforce a planning process this large in scale with so many consequences without an analysis on the impact to Nevada consumers,” Leedom said.

Consumers are not the only concern, Leedom said. Southwest Gas has about 1,100 employees in Nevada and 2,200 company-wide. Many of those jobs would be impacted if Cohen’s proposal becomes law, along with other jobs related to the gas industry.

“I feel that I’m representing many of my co-workers here and also the many industries that rely on the natural-gas industry here in this state,” Leedom said. “Many of them are upset and they are worried about their future.

“Their jobs and the jobs of their fellow employees and their families are not being talked about or considered in this process,” he said.

Officially, Cohen’s proposal remains a bill-draft request, not a bill, according to the Legislature’s web site. March 15 is the deadline for lawmakers’ bill introductions.

Southwest Gas shares the state’s goal on net-zero emissions by 2050 but wants a future for its industry, Leedom said.

“There are number of different options we can pursue to de-carbonize without doing it in a way that serves the process of putting the natural gas industry out of business,” he said.

He disputed the proposal is consumer friendly or business friendly: “Actually, it is just the opposite,” he said.

Consumer choices will decrease while costs increase under the proposal, Leedom said.

“It comes down to consumer choice,” he said. “They are building homes, 100 percent in Southern Nevada and close to that in Northern Nevada, with natural gas because that is what consumers want. And they’re also doing it in a way that is cost effective and allows for affordable housing. Building an all-electric home, there are (increased) costs associated with that.”

Businesses would also suffer.

“If you have a business that requires natural gas for cooking in your restaurant or for doing laundry or dry cleaning, this bill will begin the process of taking those options away from you,” he said. “And we’ve hired third parties to poll our customers and that polling shows that over 90 percent of Nevadans choose natural gas as their preferred energy. So I’m not sure which consumers this bill is friendly for.”

Cohen’s proposal would severely impact Nevada’s restaurant industry which now depends on gas-operated cooking appliances, Leedom said.

“This is a critically important issue for our restaurants and the Nevada Restaurant Association is very involved in this issue as well,” Leedom said.

Las Vegas’ acclaimed steakhouses and restaurants specializing in Asian cuisine would suffer without natural gas, he said.

“There are certain cooking processes that require natural gas,” Leedom said. “We are working very closely with the Asian Chamber (of Commerce). It is impossible to Wok cook without an open flame. We are hearing from many Asian restaurant owners view this as taking away their ability to survive as a restaurant.

“We also have a lot of world-class restaurants in this state that grill meat on an open flame and what is the alternative, and how does that affect the quality of food they are providing to their customers? This continues to be a major issue for them and one they are extremely concerned about.

As you know, restaurants have already been hit very hard by this pandemic and (restaurant owners) view this as kicking them when they are down,” Leedom said.

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