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Accelerating Its Clean Energy Revolution Would Add $700 Million To Nevada’s Economy Per Year By 2030

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  • Mar 22, 2021

Nevada’s wide-open sunny skies make it the United States’ perfect solar leader, with more installed solar per capita than anywhere else. It’s also a state feeling the first-hand threat of climate change as summers grow hotter and drier year after year. These two trends led state leaders to adopt ambitious emissions reduction goals, and release a statewide climate strategy last year – but can Nevada achieve its clean energy economic and climate goals?

New modeling from Energy Innovation and RMI finds that without additional policy action, Nevada’s greenhouse gas emissions will increase 12% by 2050 as fossil fuel demand outstrips solar power and electric vehicle deployment. But a relatively small set of climate policies could slash statewide emissions 95% and add $800 million to Nevada’s economy every year by 2050 while adding thousands of new clean energy jobs. 

Adopting strong, economy-wide decarbonization policies can achieve the state climate strategy’s vision for “a healthy, climate-resilient Nevada,” and jumpstart its clean energy economy in the wake of COVID-19.

Betting on clean energy is a win-win for climate and jobs

Nevada is already home to a vibrant clean energy sector, with solar prices dropping 45% over the past five years, ushering in a rapid buildout and creating jobs. Prior to the pandemic, clean energy jobs made up nearly one-fifth of all statewide construction employment.

Thanks to its clean energy assets, Nevada's power sector has rapidly decarbonized, with almost a third of its electricity coming from renewable sources in 2020, pushing the sector’s share of state emissions down to 27%. In addition to retiring coal-fired power plants such as Mohave and Reid Gardner, the state doubled its renewable portfolio standard in 2018 to require 50% of utility-based electricity generation be carbon-free by 2030, with a goal of 100% by 2050. 

These efforts have cut power sector emissions 60% since 2005. But while electricity emissions are falling, transportation emissions are growing and currently comprise 41% of Nevada’s emissions. Increasing air travel, rising natural gas demand in buildings, and growing industrial energy use are also expected to increase Nevada’s emissions, cancelling out electricity sector reductions.

If state leaders do not implement policies to achieve the state’s climate strategy, Nevada’s overall emissions are projected to increase 12% by 2050 – far off track for what’s required for a safe climate future. 

Wedge graph showing projected GHG emissions by sector in the Nevada Energy Policy Simulator
Projected GHG emissions by sector in the Nevada Energy Policy Simulator.  ENERGY INNOVATION

Science says we must limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic climate change, which requires cutting global emissions roughly in half over the next ten years and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The Nevada Energy Policy Simulator's 1.5°C policy pathway would align the state with this global target and achieve its near-zero emissions by 2050 goal.

By implementing stronger policies across the electricity, transportation, buildings, industrial, and agricultural sectors, Nevada can accelerate its low-carbon economic transition, adding 4,500 jobs and $700 million to the state economy annually in 2030, rising to 5,500 jobs and $800 million per year by 2050.

Smart policies for a clean energy economy in Nevada

The open-source and peer-reviewed Nevada EPS uses publicly available data to model the impacts of climate and energy policies on emissions, the economy, and public health through 2050. EPS models have been developed for more than a dozen countries and several subnational regions, including CaliforniaColoradoMinnesota, and Virginia. The new Nevada EPS is one of 20 planned state-level EPS models being developed by Energy Innovation and RMI.

Fully realizing the benefits of a 1.5°C policy pathway will require Nevada to accelerate electricity sector decarbonization by increasing its current 50% by 2030 renewable portfolio standard to 80% carbon-free electricity generation by 2030, and 100% by 2035. Additional infrastructure investments will be needed to support this transition and provide greater grid flexibility and reliability including a several-fold increase in battery storage over the state target, doubling transmission capacity, and 500 megawatts of additional demand response capacity. 

Wedge graph showing emissions reductions by policy under a 1.5°C policy pathway scenario for Nevada
A 1.5°C Policy Pathway Scenario for Nevada. ENERGY INNOVATION

Cleaner electricity enables deeper emissions cuts across the economy as electrified vehicles, buildings, and industry plug into a clean grid. A building equipment sales standard requiring all new building equipment and appliances to be electric by 2030 would transition gas space and water heating to more efficient all-electric heat pumps, which provide heating and cooling with just one appliance. The 1.5°C policy pathway also doubles down on building efficiency by investing in deep retrofits of existing buildings and new efficiency standards for individual appliances.

Nevada must also apply the brakes to rising transportation emissions. Because cars and trucks often last a decade or more, each new fossil-fueled vehicle sold locks in emissions for years, meaning the clean vehicle transition must start as soon as possible. Nevada should follow California’s lead by implementing an electric vehicle sales standard requiring all new passenger cars and SUV sales to be fully electric by 2035 and requiring the same of heavy-duty trucks by 2045. Doing so would also cut harmful air pollution for a state where the problem is only getting worsecosting Nevadans nearly $900 million in health bills over just one year.

The state also needs to reduce overall road travel through land-use and transportation policies that open up access to public transit, walking, and biking. These policies don’t just cut emissions, they enhance quality of life which translates to health and economic benefits.

Finally, Nevada can cut industry and agriculture emissions by ensuring industrial facilities electrify all end-uses where possible and switching to zero-carbon fuels like green hydrogen for all others by 2050. The state should also require methane leak mitigation across the oil and gas, water treatment, and waste management industries, as well as anaerobic digesters to capture manure emissions. Additionally, as the state climate strategy points out, planting and maintaining new urban trees and community forests can store carbon, while helping reduce the urban heat island effect.

Benefits beyond lower emissions

Installing new solar and wind projects, retrofitting buildings to use efficient electric equipment, and installing electric vehicle chargers would be a major investment in the state’s economy. The 1.5°C policy pathway would create almost 4,500 jobs annually in Nevada in 2030 and 5,000 jobs annually in 2050. Clean energy workers in Nevada earn 17% more than the average wage, meaning new clean energy jobs will also be good paying jobs. 

Retiring dirty fossil fuel power plants, clearing indoor air with building electrification, and slashing tailpipe exhaust also reduces harmful air pollution and improves human health. The Nevada EPS, which assesses these benefits based on regional emissions factors by fuel and end use, estimates clean energy policies would avoid more than 120 deaths and 4,000 asthma attacks per year by 2050. Using a conservative estimate of the benefits of reduced climate pollution, the monetized health and other social benefits reach $8.7 billion annually by 2050.

A climate crossroads

Nevada’s emissions reduction goals and new climate strategy demonstrate state leaders recognize this climate crossroads requires ambitious thinking. They’ve set ambitious targets and developed a strategy for implementing Nevada’s transition to 100% clean energy. Now it’s time to put the plan into action.

The Nevada EPS and 1.5°C policy pathway provide a valuable resource for the governor’s office and state legislators who are looking for the right policies to build back better, jumpstart Nevada’s clean energy economy, and help secure a safe climate future for their constituents.

Original post.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 22, 2021

The jobs argument is not the reason why clean energy is important, but it is incredibly critical to ensuring the investments win bipartisan and public support. Looking forward to seeing what Nevada does with this opportunity. 

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