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Nevada group opposes bill to 'modernize' natural gas infrastructure

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Alex Gonzalez

(Nevada News Service) Clean-energy and environmental advocates aren't pleased with a bill in the Nevada Legislature that they say would commit the state to using fossil fuels long-term. 

Senate Bill 116 would allow the utility Southwest Gas to replace thousands of miles of existing gas distribution infrastructure with what conservation groups warn would be minimal oversight from the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. 

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At the Nevada Conservation League, Deputy Director Christi Cabrera-Georgeson said in the past few years, the state has made progress toward climate goals and taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

She called this bill "a step backwards."

"Any effort to prolong or encourage the use of fossil fuels really just doesn't make sense in a state like Nevada," said Cabrera-Georgeson, "especially when we don't produce them here. We produce solar and geothermal, and renewable energy."

Cabrera-Georgeson said her group is also concerned the bill could saddle ratepayers with the cost of modernizing the gas pipeline system, paying billions of dollars on top of what she calls "historically high gas bills." 

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Bill sponsor state Sen. Skip Daly - D-Sparks - said modernizing the gas infrastructure is a necessary expense and could cost billions, "but not all at once."

Cabrera-Georgeson added that the bill isn't aligned with the state's climate and decarbonization goals. 

While Daly said he cannot dispute higher gas prices, he argued that other forms of energy - like electricity - have gotten more expensive than gas. 

Daly said other than opposing the use of natural gas, he doesn't see a logical reason for anyone to disagree with the measure.

"Under this bill with the reduced return on investment," said Daly, "the ratepayers will pay less for the replacement of this suspect pipe compared to when the utility seeks recovery of costs through the normal rate case process with the PUC."

Cabrera-Georgeson countered that the Southwest Gas system is already made of materials generally viewed as "the most modern and lowest risk," and that the utility already has a process to replace faulty infrastructure.