Las Vegas Sun

March 21, 2019

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Guest column:

Ballot question on renewable energy a boon for wildlife

Nevada’s wildlife is uniquely adapted to survive the conditions of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts. But our native species exist at the edge of their climatic adaptations. Changing rainfall patterns and higher temperatures caused by climate change are shoving them over the brink.

Thankfully, by supporting Question 6 on Election Day, we have an opportunity to act swiftly to protect our native animals.

Already, desert tortoises are increasingly losing access to the spring wildflowers and other desert plants they need for sustenance. Our state fish, the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, could be pushed to extinction as reduced snowpack in the mountains leads to less water flowing in the creeks.

Even mule deer are vulnerable. Higher temperatures could force them to higher elevations and less suitable habitat.

Our fossil fuel consumption is what’s driving these threats. The only way we can avoid climate change’s worst effects and address the harm that has already been done is for Nevada to transition our energy economy to a low-carbon future. And we have to act fast.

Question 6 gives us the chance to do just that. It’s the only initiative on the ballot that would guarantee more renewable energy in Nevada.

Our state currently generates about 20 percent of its power using renewables, with a renewable portfolio standard of 25 percent by 2025 in place. This goal acts as a baseline, mandating the minimum percentage of renewable energy that Nevada’s electric utilities must use.

Question 6 would double our state’s goal to 50 percent by 2030.

Renewable portfolio standards work. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, approximately half of all growth in renewable electricity generation in the United States since 2000 is due to these goals. New energy sources due to renewable portfolio standards in America cut lifecycle greenhouse gas pollution by 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – the same as taking 12.6 million cars off the road.

And with only a few exceptions, renewable portfolio standard goals have been met across the board. Some states even hit their targets early.

This goal isn’t a silver-bullet solution to the climate crisis on its own, of course. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we have to set even more ambitious targets. We also need to prioritize renewable energy sources that have the lowest impact on the environment.

Large, utility-owned renewable energy sources can have serious consequences if they’re not well-planned or -sited, especially in sensitive arid lands. Distributed solar, on the other hand, can be built on existing structures and help protect Nevada’s vulnerable wildlife and ecosystems. They even reduce strain on our state’s already precious water resources.

Distributed clean energy, such as rooftop solar, decreases our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and requires minimal water and land use. It also puts power directly into the hands of the people, enabling families and businesses to generate their own electricity right where they use it.

Fortunately, Nevada boasts enormous rooftop solar potential. We could meet almost 40 percent of our power needs with rooftop solar alone (that doesn’t even include other already-built spaces like parking lots). And yet we’re at less than 3 percent installed capacity for rooftop solar.

We should push for more incentives and better policies for rooftop and community solar, especially for low- and moderate-income Nevadans.

That’s why we should pass Question 6 to set stronger goals that support clean, wildlife-friendly energy. Climate change is a dire threat to Nevada’s natural and human communities.

Question 6 will help accelerate our transition away from dangerous fossil fuels and toward a better climate for wildlife and people.

Patrick Donnelly is Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Las Vegas.