Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has championed the priorities of Nevada’s electric cooperatives, helping to mitigate wildfire risks and securing funding for solar energy projects, co-op leaders say.
“She has been a dream to work with,” says Carolyn Turner, executive director of the Nevada Rural Electric Association. “We’ve got great relations with all of our congressional delegation members, but Senator Cortez Masto and her team really stand out to me as being the most knowledgeable and the most connected to these very remote communities that our co-ops serve.
“We’ve got large swaths of land without a whole lot of people living there, and that can be difficult for some elected officials to connect with. One co-op has 5,000 members spread out over 15,000 square miles. That gives you a sense of just how remote they are. Many of our co-ops are not just rural, they’re frontier co-ops.”
Cortez Masto and most of her staff are from urban areas, but they have taken time to visit and learn about co-op communities in isolated areas throughout the state, Turner says.
“When you have a sitting United States senator who is willing to get in the car with her team and drive to these communities, that really takes dedication,” she says. “They are going the extra mile, both literally and figuratively, for our members.”
The Democratic senator has secured federal funding to help prevent and mitigate devastating wild res in the West and has worked with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to coordinate fire suppression efforts, Turner says.
Cortez Masto’s ability to work well with federal agencies is essential in a state where nearly 90% of the land is owned by the U.S. government, Turner says.
“If your delegation doesn’t have a good working relationship with those agencies, you’re in a tough spot,” she says. “Senator Cortez Masto has been a huge force for good.”
In addition to wildfires, drought is a big problem in Nevada and has hurt co-ops’ ability to get hydropower from the Colorado River in the southern part of the state, Turner says.
Trying to replace hydropower can be extremely expensive, so Turner says it was a huge boost when the senator helped one of Nevada’s small co-ops secure federal funds for a 2-megawatt solar energy system in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress late last year. Cortez Masto got $1.75 million for the project, which will be developed by 1,700-member Lincoln County Power District 1.
“For a small distribution utility like Lincoln County, that money is crucial,” Turner says.
The senator has also been pushing the Federal Communications Commission to fix broadband maps that do not accurately reflect which communities have access to high-speed internet service. The maps’ accuracy is crucial to ensure that Nevada gets its fair share of broadband funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law, the senator’s office says.
“There is proactive engagement from her office,” Turner says. “That relationship has been so helpful to us. … We’re looking forward to the next six years with her.”
Cortez Masto was re-elected to a second six-year term in November 2022.
“Our rural communities deserve access to the same resources as all other Nevadans, and I’ll always stand up to protect them,” the senator says. “Thousands of Nevadans in rural areas depend on co-ops for access to electricity and reliable broadband, and I’ll make sure they can continue providing these essential services, including disaster relief.”
When she was first elected in 2016, Cortez Masto made history by becoming the first woman and first Latina ever to serve Nevada in the U.S. Senate. Before her election to Congress, the Las Vegas native served two terms as the state’s attorney general.
The senator sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining. She has been a strong advocate for developing renewable energy projects in her home state.