Energy Experts Fear – Will Nevada Become the Detroit of the West?

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It’s no secret Nevada has been one of the hardest hit states in the current recession, in part brought about by the housing crisis, but also due to lack of economic diversification. A picture not unlike the economy of Michigan.

Our state’s history has been boom-and-bust, with past recoveries driven by tourism and most recently by construction. But not this time. Nevada’s governor-elect Brian Sandoval and Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki have both recently published articles in the Reno Gazette Journal (RGJ) about the importance of Renewable Energy (RE) in the economic recovery. We’ve been hearing these prescriptions from our governing leaders for years and have some success to show for it with solar and geothermal energy generation in the south and north respectively. But its not nearly enough and not anywhere near Nevada’s potential, according to a grass roots collection of over 150 RE supporters that met November 17 at Bishop Manogue High School to explore what’s possible.

The first Green Economy Community Forum, sponsored by the RGJ and law firm Holland & Hart, drew local RE companies, business and political leaders and concerned citizens to hear a prestigious panel explore what it would take for a robust green economic recovery in Nevada. Here are the 13 panelists:

Tom Price.....Clean Path Renewable Development
Paul Thomsen.....Ormat Technologies
Tom Clark.....Holland & Hart
Rich Hamilton.....Clean Energy Center
Alex Gamboa.....Envirolution
Jim Groth.....Nevada Energy Office
Alfredo Alonzo.....Lewis & Roca
Lauren Scott.....Apollo Bioenergy
Kyle Davis.....Nevada Conservation League
Jack McGinley.....NV Energy
Alan Gertler.....Desert Research Institute
Amanda Fairley.....Waste Management
Susan Clark.....REA250

These energy experts were lead by moderator Frank Woodbeck of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development (NCED). Here are the four questions he posed and highlights of some of the more frequent themes that emerged.

1.What is a “green” job?

  • Its more than what a marketer attaches to a brand for publicity.
  • For Nevada, it must be more than just erecting solar and wind farms, but include manufacturing and an educated and trained work force.

2.Define a green economy?

  • Includes re-cycling, energy (source) sustainability, conservation and efficiency and reduction of GHG’s.
  • For international RE companies based in Reno, jobs can have a “multip lier effect” from employees working out of state, according to Paul Thomsen of Ormat.
  • Entails three areas: the financing of RE projects, manufacturing of RE equipment and installations, according to Tom Price of Clean Path Renewables.

3. How do you create green jobs?

  • Need integrated green educational system for K-12 up thru university. Without this, companies will not move to Nevada!
  • Need to become a “green capitalist,” exporting energy to CA
  • Use green projects to convert dormant BLM land to tax production.

4. What are the barriers to bringing green companies to NV?

  • And educated and trained work force, from scientists on down to installers.
  • A better informed and supportive electorate is needed to pressure legislators.
  • Lack of financing to fund both the projects, as well as transmission lines.

Rich Hamilton of Clean Energy Center http://www.cleanenergycenter.com/ says his business of RE system installations has grown over 300% in the last year. He owes that to a combination of what he refers to as “persistence and patience,” as well as a supportive climate of “political backing and community passion for sustainability.”

What was not fully addressed by the panel was the job creation value of the entrepreneur who is trying to grow – or launch – their own wind, solar or biofuel business. Much of the discussion focused on utility-scale RE projects that connect to the grid, such as wind/solar farms and geothermal facilities. These serve larger municipalities, potentially exporting energy to neighboring states and employ hundreds of workers, mostly up front. These create good revenue and help achieve the utility’s portfolio requirements, but are not the optimal solution for Nevada’s long term unemployment needs. Longer term, more stable job growth can be better achieved by enterprises that manufacture RE parts, build plants for refining of biofuels, develop an infrastructure that involves farmers and harvesters of biomass, and contractors that install RE equipment for residences and small businesses. And what was mentioned repeatedly by panel members is a desperate need for an integrated state-wide training and education system for students, installers and future RE scientists. Without an educated and trained work force, according to the panel, RE energy companies are less likely to relocate to Nevada and those that start here may need to go elsewhere for talent and manufacturing.  Article also appears in my energy column.

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