Nevada’s population is projected to increase 5.6 percent through 2022, according to the state demographer. That expansion and the continuing robust economy translate into greatly increased, cumulative power and water needs by new businesses and residences. Accommodating the current and forecasted growth is a huge focus of the Silver State entities providing these utilities. Here’s a look at the energy and water industries.
Nevada’s energy industry is “thriving,” described John Hester, CEO, Southwest Gas Corp., the state’s largest provider of natural gas (700,000 customers). In the north, the utility serves Carson City, Elko, Winnemucca, Fallon, Gardnerville, Incline Village and other areas around Lake Tahoe. In the south, it covers the Las Vegas Valley, Henderson and North Las Vegas. It operates in California and Arizona, too.
To meet demand, Hester expects his corporation to grow over the next few years at 1.6 percent on an annualized basis, or add about 35,000 customers per year. Further, plans call for Southwest Gas to spend more than $2 billion over the next three years in its tristate service territory to feed growth and ensure its gas delivery systems are as new and as safe as possible.
Energy in Nevada continues to evolve, with the demand for more renewable energy rising, particularly as the related technologies and the adoption of them improves. One example of the evolution is large-scale batteries for storage and electric vehicles, said Doug Cannon, CEO, NV Energy. The utility provides electricity to more than 1.2 million customers in the state. It also delivers natural gas to more than 165,000 people in the Reno-Sparks area.
Regarding electric vehicles, last year Nevadans adopted them 40 percent more than in 2017, according to the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy’s (GOE) “2018 Status of Energy Report.” Additionally, the GOE and various partners are working to develop the Nevada Electric Highway, a system with the infrastructure needed for electric vehicles to travel long distances. As for Phase 1, along US 95, Beatty, Fallon and Hawthorne now have charging stations; the final two, in Tonopah and Indian Springs, should be added this year.
Renewable sources accounted for 18.1 percent of the state’s power generation as of August 2018. That category encompasses biomass/biogas/landfill, geothermal, waste heat, hydroelectric, solar, net metering (energy sold back to the grid) and wind.
Natural gas, which is low carbon emitting, was the largest energy source in Nevada at 69.5 percent. Coal followed renewables at 9 percent. Next were hydroelectric at 3.3 percent and petroleum at less than 0.01 percent.
Currently, before the Nevada legislature is a bill to double the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 from the current 25 percent by 2025. This standard is the amount of electricity sold by a power utility to retail customers that must come from renewable sources, 6 percent of which must be solar generated. Senate Bill 350 also would require wholly carbon-free emissions by 2050.
Cannon said NV Energy supports the bill and is committed to adding more renewable energy resources to its system. With its integrated resource plan, approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) in December 2018, NV Energy will bring 1,001 megawatts of new renewable energy to the state, including 100 megawatts of battery storage capacity. The PUCN regulates the 400 investor-owned utilities in the Silver State.
Representing a $2.2 billion investment, six photovoltaic solar projects (three in the north, three in the south) are being built by different developers, will boost the utility’s renewable energy portfolio to about 3,000 megawatts. These projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. From most to least power generation, they are:
Eagle Shadow Mountain Solar Farm: 300 MW, north of Las Vegas on land owned by the Moapa Band of Paiutes, developer 8minutenergy Renewables
Copper Mountain Solar 5: 250 MW, Eldorado Valley, south of Boulder City, CED Southwest Holdings, Inc.
Dodge Flat Solar Energy Center: 200 MW with 50 MW of battery energy storage, east of Reno, NextEra Energy Resources LLC
Battle Mountain Solar Project: 101 MW, including 25 MW of battery energy storage, near Battle Mountain, Cypress Creek Renewables
Fish Springs Ranch Solar Energy Center: 100 MW with 25 MW of battery energy storage, north of Reno, NextEra Energy Resources LLC
Techren Solar V: 50 MW, adjacent to Techren Solar I, II, III and IV in Eldorado Valley, Techren Solar LLC
“For the first time we’ll be adding large-scale battery storage onto those projects,” Cannon said. “We’re excited to get experience with these batteries to provide more benefits to the grid.”
Southwest Gas has been pursuing, with various potential partners, the addition of renewable natural gas to its assets and expects that will come to fruition next year. The utility would collaborate with entities that generate methane gas as an operational byproduct, for example sewage treatment plants and dairy farms. The methane would be captured, cleaned and added to Southwest’s distribution system.
“It creates a carbon neutral or carbon negative source of fuel,” Hester said. “It’s a nice opportunity to make natural gas even greener than it already is.”
Nevada also is increasingly moving away from carbon-intense energies like coal and diesel to renewables and natural gas, Hester said. For instance, NV Energy will no longer own any coal generation plants in Southern Nevada by year-end and is scheduled to retire its Valmy plant in Northern Nevada in 2021, Cannon said.
Additionally, Southwest Gas is expanding its Nevada service territory, particularly in the rural areas. It most recently added Mesquite in February.
Another energy provider, to Nevada’s rural areas, Pahrump-based Valley Electric Association Inc. (VEA), has been plagued with scandal recently. Mismanagement and an unexpected March rate hike by the cooperative have many of its 7,500 members outraged and wanting the entire board ousted. VEA provides electricity to more than 45,000 Nevadans within a 6,800-square-mile area between Fish Lake Valley and Sandy Valley.
Most recently, when this issue went to press, the VEA had a meeting scheduled for April 27 for its members to “address concerns regarding fiduciary responsibilities and the process for recalling VEA board members,” according to a news release.
VEA Members for Change, the entity that represents the disgruntled VEA members, announced via Facebook on March 16 it had collected enough petition signatures to “hold a special meeting on April 20 for the purpose of presenting charges against the board members for their removal” and had notified the governing body of such.
In early March, the VEA board appointed an interim CEO, Richard Peck, who will serve until further notice.
All of these moves resulted from a string of events unfolding after VEA’s former CEO, Tom Husted, resigned hastily in late spring 2018 after ten-plus years in the position. The board, in October 2018, appointed then chief operating officer Angela Evans as the new CEO.
In early February, the VEA announced a rate increase to $0.12 per kWh from $0.11 to go into effect March 1, despite members previously having been assured rates would remain stable through 2024. Subsequently, in late February, Evans was arrested on charges of embezzlement stemming from about $75,000 worth of work done involving power lines at her home, which was charged to the VEA. Thereafter, the VEA board placed her on administrative leave.
Claims have been made that Husted allegedly sexually harassed a former employee and then paid more than $1 million of VEA funds as hush money to certain employees who knew about it, including Evans. Further, it’s been charged the company raised member rates to recoup those cover-up funds.
Days before her arrest, Evans stated all of the allegations of criminal activity by then VEA employees were false and the rate increase was necessary primarily because VEA’s costs to provide service had been rising steadily over the decade. Further, she noted that an audit of VEA’s finances by an outside firm for the period between Jan. 1, 2016 and July 31, 2018 was clean, showing no evidence of wrongdoing or funds mismanagement.
Last month, Peck stated in a TV news interview that other than the recent rate hike, VEA plans no other significant changes in the near term.
Looking forward, Nevada can expect its energy industry in the near future to change even more, encompass more electrification and continue investing in infrastructure to meet increasing demands.
“The conversation will continue to be very focused on how we reduce carbon in the environment, what’s the role of the electric industry in reducing that carbon and where do we want to take our energy in the future,” Cannon said.
In Southern Nevada, the water supply is “strong and resilient,” said John Entsminger, thanks to conservation, infrastructure investments and resource planning.
“From a resource and facilities perspective, we have the situation well in hand,” he said.
Entsminger is the general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) and the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). The LVVWD is the largest of seven member agencies comprising SNWA, from whom it receives water wholesale. The LVVWD then sells it retail to its customers in the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.
“We don’t show a scenario in our resource plan where we need to be bringing in new supplies in the next 30 years, even under the worst hydrologic scenario on the Colorado River,” Entsminger said.
However, he emphasized, having enough water for the region depends on the entire community maintaining and improving its conservation efforts. The utility’s primary initiatives in this regard are getting customers to follow the existing rules and removing the nearly 5,000 acres of non-functional, unused turf commonly located in medians, traffic circles, pocket parks and the like. Success with the former alone would result in a savings of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water (one acre-foot of water is enough for two to three single-family homes for a year).
Also important in protecting Nevada’s water resource, Entsminger said, is the federal Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, introduced on April 2 by two U.S. senators from New Mexico. The law would implement the water conservation measures agreed upon by the seven Colorado River Basin states (Nevada is one) and Native American tribes to ensure the river’s sustainability and to protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell’s reservoir levels.
Regarding facilities, SNWA will have $1.5 billion worth of new facilities at Lake Mead finished by April 2020, which guarantee it can extract water out of the lake continually.
To meet economic and population growth in the southwest, west and northwest parts of the Vegas Valley, the LVVWD is in the midst of a “robust” system expansion, the first since the Great Recession. Construction of a number of new pump stations and reservoirs, now in the design phase, is part of the 10-year $616 million capital improvement plan the LVVWD board approved in 2017.
The utility’s priorities in the ensuing years are making additional gains in conservation, having the necessary facilities in place and, through demand management and partnering with neighbors, ensuring water is available.
“You’re going to see stability because we’re planners. Our job is to look out multiple decades and make sure nothing’s going to sneak up on us,” Entsminger said.
In Northern Nevada, a wet winter brought nearly double the average snowpack, which means “all of our reservoirs will fill and spill, and because of that, the water supply situation really could not get any better than this,” said Mark Foree, general manager, Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA), the water utility for the Greater Reno-Sparks area and parts of Washoe County.
“We do have ample water resources to provide for expected growth over the next 20 years and beyond,” he added.
TMWA is experiencing growth throughout its system, which requires planning, design, new facilities construction, operation, maintenance and rehabilitation, Foree said. The utility currently is updating its 20-year water resource plan, an every five year event, this round of which should be finished in about a year. Part of that planning is for capital improvements to existing infrastructure.
Another part is planning for drought periods. Today, TMWA stores water during the winters in upstream reservoirs on the Truckee River that are federally owned and operated. This is the result of the Truckee River Operating Agreement completed in 2015 after 27 years of negotiation.
“That’s been a big change,” Foree said. “It really sets us up for several decades of expected growth.”
Where possible, TMWA is maximizing the use of Truckee River surface water by moving it into the groundwater-dependent systems in its portfolio and minimizing the use of pumped groundwater by temporarily taking the necessary wells offline. The utility plans to do just that with its new asset, acquired in March, the West Reno Water System near Boomtown in Verdi, after connecting it to the main system.
“We have seen groundwater levels recover and rise because of that,” Foree said.
Also, the utility is building a water treatment plant off of Mt. Rose Highway in the Galena area. Water from Whites Creek will be treated at the new facility and used, again to replace some of the pumped groundwater in the area. The plant is slated to be up and running in about a year.
As for renewable energy efforts, TMWA generates hydroelectric power from its three run-of-the-river plants then sells to NV Energy what its water system doesn’t use. Last year, the sellback yielded $3.76 million for TMWA.
“That’s saying quite a bit if you have renewable energy-generating facilities that can produce nearly all of what you use in terms of power,” Foree said. “We really look at it as a cost benefit to our customers.”
For the next few years, TMWA will remain focused on managing and keeping pace with all of the growth, said Foree.