Editorial: Highway robbery on the Electric Highway

The state has released information on just how frequently those rural electric car recharging stations are being used, and it’s not exactly like those lines for gasoline back in the 1970s during the oil embargo.

The Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy reports that drivers have charged their expensive electric vehicles 274 times at the three charging stations built by the state in Beatty, Fallon and Panaca along Highways 95 and 93 since the first one opened in early 2016, according to The Nevada Independent. The donation-funded news website reports this usage saved a total equivalent to 395 gallons of gasoline and dispensed 3,150 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It was dutifully noted that the usage rate is growing.

The costs of these charging stations, which give away the power for free — dubbed the Nevada Electric Highway — has been a moving target. When the first one opened in Beatty in March 2016 the Governor’s Office of Energy said each would cost $15,000.

In the summer of 2015 press accounts said each would cost $30,000.

A June 2017 story in the Las Vegas newspaper quoted a spokesman for the governor as saying the cost of each station would range from $85,000 to $250,000, but he assured that “none of that comes from taxpayer dollars. The office is funding its portion of costs with federal grant money, and the electric utility covers the rest.” And we thought federal grant money came from taxpayers and utility costs were passed on to the ratepayers.

According to the Governor’s Office of Energy, NV Energy put up $30,000 in an upfront cost abatement payment. It also reports NV Energy is putting out $30,000 for three stations and Valley Electric Association is shelling out $15,000 for one.

Another station opened a month ago in Hawthorne. No usage for that outpost was mentioned yet. The press release announcing the opening was bereft of dollar signs.

The first three electric car charging stations have been open an average of about 540 days. Thus, according to the state, they are used about once every two days. The station in Panaca has been used only six times since opening in September, less than once a month.

Taking the low-ball cost per station of $15,000 each that means the 395 gallons of gasoline saved cost $114 per gallon in capital outlay alone, never mind maintenance and operating costs. The high-end of $250,000 per station translates to $1,900 per gallon.

Using the current retail power cost of about 12 cents per kWh, the stations have given electric car drivers less than $380 worth of power over two years. Now there’s a bargain.

The NVIndy website said Gov. Brian Sandoval sent it an email statement saying he was “encouraged” by the progress of the project.

“When the entire route is complete, range anxiety will be significantly reduced, giving more travelers the comfort required to travel between Reno and Las Vegas,” the statement reportedly said. “Moreover, as the number of electric cars increases, I am confident even more travelers will utilize the electric highway.”

When that Beatty charging station opened, Sandoval was on hand to demonstrate by charging up a Ford Focus from the state Department of Transportation fleet in Las Vegas. Since the car had a range of only 76 miles, it had to be hauled to the ceremony from Las Vegas. Most of the Beatty charging stations take four hours to recharge, though a couple can do an 80 percent recharge in half an hour.

According to that 2017 Las Vegas newspaper account, a spokesman for the governor said the office has identified 24 sites along five traffic corridors “where EV charging stations make sense.”

Depends on what one means by make sense.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Gov. Brian Sandoval plugs in an electric Ford Focus in the first electric car charging station along U.S. Highway 95 in Beatty in 2016.

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Newspaper column: PUC tilts at power choice initiative

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission, which is tasked with regulating the state’s monopoly utilities, has put out a 109-page report detailing a litany of things that could go wrong if voters again approve at the ballot box in November a constitutional amendment creating a free market for electricity.

In 2016 voters approved the Energy Choice Initiative by an overwhelming 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. Because the measure would amend the state Constitution it is back on the ballot this fall for final voter approval, but this time around a coalition headed by the state’s largest power monopoly, NV Energy, has vowed to spend $30 million to defeat it.

The PUC report reads like an in-kind contribution to that effort.

A foreword signed by PUC Chairman Joe Reynolds declares that, while the concept of open markets is quintessentially American, “ensuring a non-stop supply of electricity to every home, business, and governmental entity in Nevada every second of every day of the year, regardless of the weather or economy, makes it unique from other goods and services. Electricity is a basic necessity of modern life. Like air. Like water. Like food.”

The Nevada Independent pix by Jeff Scheid

Thank goodness for those government regulated monopoly grocery stores.

While Reynolds says the report neither supports or opposes the initiative, the bulk of its findings appear to find fault with the proposal.

The initiative would require the Legislature to pass a law providing an open, competitive retail electric energy market by July 1, 2023. The law must include provisions to reduce customer costs, protect against service disconnections and unfair practices, and prohibit the granting of monopolies for power generation, but could leave in place regulation of transmission and distribution.

One of the chief arguments for the measure is that competition would drive down cost.

But the PUC report claims the proposal is likely to increase monthly electric bills in the first decade of implementation. The bulk of this cost is attributed to the supposition that NV Energy will be forced to divest its generation assets, though there is no language in the initiative even suggesting any such requirement.

The report argues that this presumed divestiture would cost Southern Nevada residential power customers $24.91 a month and Northern Nevada residential customers $6.52, because NV Energy might have to sell off its power plants at a loss. A presumption compounding a presumption.

At one point the report seemingly declares that the system isn’t broken, stating, “Our residential rates are on average, and our commercial and industrial rates are lower than average.”

In its conclusion the report feigns solicitude for the poor residential ratepayer and warns that residential customers might suffer the most if the initiative passes.

“If history and experience are any type of guide, commercial and industrial customers, will fare far better, at least initially, than the average Nevada residential family through this proposed change,” the report states. “Large commercial customers, who currently cannot depart bundled electricity service pursuant to NRS Chapter 704B may financially benefit the most, as they cannot currently access a competitive open marketplace that may offer benefits to high-volume users.”

This is the same PUC that currently sets those residential, commercial and industrial rates.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is cited as the source for that earlier mention of low rates on average, the residential rate set by the PUC were the highest among the eight Mountain states in January 2018, while the commercial rate was the third lowest and the industrial rate was the second lowest in the region.

While residents paid 12.36 cents per kilowatt-hour, commercial customers paid 8.04 cents and industrial users paid only 5.28 cents. Thirty-one states have lower residential power rates than Nevada, according to the EIA. Only four states have lower industrial power rates. Only three states have lower commercial rates. (The EIA site now has February rates.)

Aren’t you glad your state regulators are looking out for you?

The report does point out a potential legal conundrum. While the initiative creates a “right to sell trade or otherwise dispose of electricity,” it also says lawmakers retain the power to establish “policies on renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental protection.”

A right would appear to trump a policy. The report asks whether a mining company might have the right to buy power from a coal-fired plant, despite a state law closing all such plants.

In a section on the impact on jobs, the report snidely concludes, “Lots of Nevada attorneys may also gain new work from the Energy Choice Initiative.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: ObamaCare costs keep soaring

Premiums for ObamaCare-eligible health insurance plans are soaring this year, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that the lowest priced of the so-called gold plans that cover 80 percent of medical expenses for a 40-year-old non-smoker increased 19 percent nationally this year and 25 percent in Nevada. The lowest cost silver plans for that individual, which covers 70 percent of medical costs, went up 32 percent nationally and 45.6 percent in Nevada. The second lowest priced silver plans jumped 34.3 percent nationally and 48.3 percent in Nevada.

But not to worry, the Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City reports that more than 85 percent of the nearly 100,000 Nevadans who are covered by such plans through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will not pay much if any of that premium increase because they receive federal subsidies. Guess who pays those federal subsidies? All of us.

The Appeal reports that, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, the nationwide increase in premiums will cost the taxpayers $10 billion more in subsidies this year.

Of course, a state health exchange executive blamed the premium spikes on “instability in the health insurance market — much of it caused by tactics designed to undermine the Affordable Care Act. That includes the decision to stop paying insurance companies for the Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies mandated by the ACA for consumers making between 138 and 250 percent of the poverty level,” the Appeal explained.

The taxpayers get stuck with the bill either way — subsidize the insurer or subsidize the rate payer. Six of one, a half dozen of the other.

During the debate this past year over those Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies, The Wall Street Journal reported, “In an ironic twist, stopping the subsidies would also wind up costing the federal government more in the end, the (Congressional Budget Office) report said. Higher premiums for mid-priced plans would require the government to pay larger tax credits to consumers to help offset coverage costs. The federal deficit would increase by $194 billion through 2026, the report said.” Instead of paying $7 billion in subsidies to insurers, we are paying $10 billion to ratepayers.

Pay no heed to the fact ObamaCare premiums have been rising sharply since the law was passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote and using dirty tricks devised by Nevada’s own Sen. Harry Reid. According to the website eHealth, from 2013, the year before ObamaCare went into effect, through 2017, health insurance premiums had already increased 140 percent. Forget repeal and replace, just repeal. Remember at the ballot box this fall just who brought us this expensive boondoggle and would vote to keep it.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Opposition to wind farm project expressed

As part of its review process to determine whether to approve an application to allow construction of wind turbines on 32,000 acres of public land in Nevada adjacent to the California border just west of Searchlight, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a series of scoping meetings to allow public input.

At a recent meeting in Las Vegas a half dozen speakers largely expressed support for renewable energy but not on the proposed site.

According to a 2012 filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, Crescent Peak Renewables is proposing to erect 220 wind turbine towers standing more than 400 feet high and generating 500 megawatts of power. The proposed site is adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness in Nevada. All of the land is in Nevada.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area (Pix by Kurt Kuznicki)

Alan O’Neill, retired superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, testified there is a coalition of conservation organizations in California and Nevada that asked the BLM to hold off on issuing the notice of intent for the wind project until a supplemental resource management plan could be completed.

O’Neill also said the groups asked that the area be designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

“What we’d like the BLM to do, and I’m speaking on behalf of a number of conservation organizations, is for BLM to develop an alternative as part of this EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process that has a ‘no wind’ alternative,   combined with establishing the Castle Mountains ACEC. We think that’s a solid alternative,” O’Neill said, noting there are 19 environmental conservation organizations plus four retired superintendents backing the proposal.

“It seems disingenuous to me that in the overall presentation you’re talking about an impact of 750 acres,” actual area cleared for pads and roads, O’Neill remarked. “It is surrounded by wilderness characteristics with basically no roads, except backcountry roads. Those roads are 10 feet wide, and you’re talking about building 93 miles of new roads 36 feet wide, in addition to 15 miles of road that they’re expanding to 36. The impacts of that are astounding. And you’re talking about a hole in the doughnut. You’re talking about this area surrounded by a protected landscape that many of us in this room have spent literally decades trying to get protected. You’re talking about putting in an industrial-sized development.”

Laura Cunningham, a member of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch, stated, “I would recommend going to this area, like the Castle Mountains in Nevada, and hiking, because I think what’s not being said here is how absolutely beautiful this place is. It is really pristine. There are hardly any roads there.”

Cunningham added, “So, this is a really wild, remote area, really biologically diverse. My group, Basin and Range Watch, we’re going to have a ‘bioblitz’ April 28th and 29th.”

Her group’s website explains that the bioblitz, which is defined as a biological survey in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area, is part of an effort to persuade the BLM to designate roughly 38,000 acres of Nevada desert — which includes the proposed wind farm — as an ACEC.

“I was just hiking there a couple of weeks ago and it’s got a unique, rare Sonoran Desert grassland with Joshua trees and yuccas,” she said. “You get up on some of those low ridges, they don’t look like much on a map, but when you’re there it looks like you’re in East Africa or Namibia. You just don’t see anything — no transmission lines, maybe there’s one road way off in the distance, a dirt road.”

Jose Witt, who said he belongs to the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said that, while there is a need to replace fossil fuel power generation with renewable energy, there also is a need to protect view sheds and wildlife habitat.

“If we put this type of development in the middle of all these protected lands, it ruins the integrity and conservation values of all this area. We fragment the habitat and essentially lose islands of protection, or become islands, because there is no continuity,” Witt said.

Shannon Salter said the Joshua trees in the area need to be protected. “Some of them are over 30 feet tall and they are approximately 900 years old. We need them protected. The name of their forest is the Wee Thump Joshua forest. That word Wee Thump is a Paiute Indian word, which means ancient one,” Slater said.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

PUC feigns concern of residential power customers

It is passing strange that the Nevada Public Utilities Commission has put out an unsolicited speculation on what might happen if the voters were to again approve at the ballot box in November a constitutional amendment ending the electric power monopoly in the state. The so-called Energy Choice Initiative passed by more than 72 percent in 2016.

But it is downright laughable how the report expresses feigned solicitude for the poor residential ratepayer.

While the report suggests that power rates might go up rather than down, as initiative backers claim, it warns that residential customers might suffer the most.

“If history and experience are any type of guide, commercial and industrial customers, will fare far better, at least initially, than the average Nevada residential family through this proposed change,” the report states. “Large commercial customers, who currently cannot depart bundled electricity service pursuant to NRS Chapter 704B may financially benefit the most, as they cannot currently access a competitive open marketplace that my offer benefits to high-volume users.”

This is the same PUC that currently sets those residential, commercial and industrial rates.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the residential rates set by the PUC were the highest among the eight Mountain states in January 2018, while the commercial rates was the third lowest and the industrial rate was the second lowest in the region.

While residents paid 12.36 cents per kilowatt-hour, commercial customers paid 8.04 cents and industrial users paid only 5.28 cents. Thirty-one states have lower residential power rates than Nevada, according to the EIA. Only four states have lower industrial power rates. Only three states have lower commercial rates.

Aren’t you glad the PUC is looking out for you?

 

 

 

Editorial: No solution for wild horse overpopulation in budget

The wild horse can has been kicked down the road yet again.

Congress could not possibly find a way in its 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion budget that President Trump signed a couple of weeks ago to do anything whatsoever about the overpopulation of wild horses.

The Interior Department’s FY2019 budget at one time included this language: “The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.”

Among those tools could have been the humane slaughter of sick and unadoptable wild horses and burros that are starving on the overgrazed range in the West. That was the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, but every federal budget since 2009 has prohibited this commonsense approach.

So we are stuck with spending $50 million a year to warehouse 46,000 “wild” horses in pens and pastures, while 73,000 roam free on grazing land that can sustain only 27,000 animals. The main population reduction method left for the federal land agencies is adoption. According to The Washington Post only 3,500 wild horses were adopted in 2017.

“We are thrilled that Congress has rejected this sick horse slaughter plan,” the Post quoted Marilyn Kroplick, president of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, as saying in a statement that claimed horse lovers had “jammed Congressional phone lines with calls and sent tens of thousands of emails” to make their case.

On the other hand, in the real world, Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in an op-ed in The New York Times in December, cited an example of the conditions on the ground, noting that in 2015 the Bureau of Land Management sent agents into the desert outside Las Vegas to round up about 200 wild horses that were reported to be starving to death.

“Bureau employees discovered nearly 500 horses,” Stewart wrote. “They had pounded their range to powder; the desert grasses that remained had been eaten to the nubs. Nearly 30 were in such poor condition they had to be euthanized, and many others were on the brink of death.”

The BLM had determined that the 100,000-acre expanse where these horses were grazing produced only enough grasses and water to sustain 70 horses, the congressman concluded.

Stewart advocated euthanizing excess horses. “I understand that some will recoil from this approach. But anyone who really cares about these majestic animals must understand that other efforts have failed to curb their exploding population and that culling these herds to numbers the land can sustain is the best way to prevent further suffering and death,” he concluded.

According to the BLM, if nothing is done, by 2020 there will be 130,000 feral horses and burros on BLM-controlled lands, still starving and dying of thirst and crowding out other species and competing with cattle and sheep for forage.

The BLM canceled a meeting of its National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board scheduled for late March in Salt Lake City when a member objected to using a 15-day public notice for “urgent matters,” instead of the customary 30 days. The terms of three board members expired on March 31. Another meeting will be scheduled once new members are seated.

That may be a futile gesture. At a 2016 meeting in Elko the advisory panel recommended “offering all suitable animals in long- and short-term holding deemed unadoptable, for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia.” The recommendation was ignored.

Meanwhile, nothing is being done to the relieve the suffering of feral horses.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Census should ask about citizenship

Ignorance is not bliss.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have sued in an effort to block the 2020 Census from asking about citizenship status, claiming the question will prompt illegal immigrants to not respond and thus result in an undercount of population. That, they say, could result in the loss of congressional representation and federal funding for states, such as California, that have large immigrant populations.

According to the 14th Amendment, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” That’s the whole number of persons, not just citizens.

The stakes for Nevada are also high.

According to a Pew Research report, in 2012 Nevada’s population included 7.6 percent illegal immigrants, its workforce was 10.2 percent illegals and its school enrollment included 17.7 percent whose parents are not in the country legally. All of those levels were the highest in the nation and climbing.

According to estimates posted by the Census Bureau in July, fully 19.3 percent of Nevada residents were foreign born. Fully 27 percent of Californians were foreign born. The problem is that there is no accurate number for how many of those have attained citizenship or legal residency.

The citizenship question was asked up until 1950 and is still asked on the more detailed American Community Survey that goes to about 2.6 percent of the population each year.

The Census Bureau explains why the citizenship and place of birth questions are on the long form: “We ask about people in the community born in other countries in combination with information about housing, language spoken at home, employment, and education, to help government and communities enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination based on national origin. For example, these data are used to support the enforcement responsibilities under the Voting Rights Act to investigate differences in voter participation rates and to enforce other laws and policies regarding bilingual requirements.”

Those who oppose asking about citizenship status do so under the purely speculative supposition that non-citizens will spurn the census entirely, ignoring the fact the Census Bureau is legally bound by strict confidentiality requirements. It may not share individual data with ICE, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA or anyone.

Additionally, refusing to comply with the Census can result in a $100 fine and providing false data can result in a $500 fine, though reportedly no one has been fined since 1970.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto railed, “This decision trades the accuracy of a census designed to provide complete count of the entire nation’s population for a political win for President Trump. This is a direct attack on immigrant populations that could lead to undercounted and underfunded minority districts across the country. It is an assault on our representative democracy and our Constitution which requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter their citizenship status.”

Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat, said the citizenship question “politicizes the census and drags its integrity into question. It’s clear that the Trump administration is looking to ensure Nevada’s immigrant communities are underserved and underrepresented for the next decade.”

The mostly Democratic-majority states that are suing over the Census question about citizenship are claiming the knowledge will somehow dilute minority representation, but the opposite is the case.

A Wall Street Journal editorial recently pointed out, “The progressive critics are also missing that Commerce says the Justice Department requested the citizenship question to continue a longtime progressive policy: to wit, enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate by race. Justice supposedly needs detailed data on citizen voting-age population by census block, which the American Community Survey doesn’t provide.”

Hans von Spakovsky explained in an essay penned for The Heritage Foundation, “Citizenship information collected in the 2000 census was vital to our efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act when I worked at the U.S. Department of Justice. When reviewing claims of whether the voting strength of minority voters was being diluted in redistricting, it was essential to know the size of the citizen voting age population.”

So it certainly seems that the self-styled progressives are ignoring the facts, the statistics and the well-being of those they claim to wish to protect.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.