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October 31, 2014

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ALTERNATIVE ENERGY:

Three years later, challenge renewed

As some see progress on renewables, Clinton gives pep talk

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Steve Marcus

Former President Clinton says at the National Clean Energy Summit at Cox Pavilion on Monday that Nevada has the “natural capacity” to become the nation’s leader in renewable energy by taking advantage of its geothermal resources and building wind turbines and solar plants.

Face to Face: Energy Debate

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Three years ago, Bill Clinton issued his first challenge to Nevada business leaders to make the state a mecca for renewable energy companies, and they can point to some evidence they took him seriously.

Since 2005, two of the world’s largest solar plants have opened in Southern Nevada. A Detroit-style manufacturing facility for solar plant components opened near the Strip. This year, the state’s largest utility company touted Nevada’s place at No. 1 in solar and geothermal power sold per capita, announced several projects that will harness the power of steam, sun and wind over the next half-decade and will, for the first time, comply with a state law requiring it to purchase a percentage of its power from renewable resource providers.

But up for debate even among industry boosters is whether adequate progress has been made toward the bold vision Clinton outlined.

Monday night, when Clinton again addressed a Las Vegas audience regarding the power of a green energy economy, he reemphasized that Nevada is uniquely positioned to become energy self-sufficient by taking advantage of its geothermal resources and by building wind turbines and large solar plants in the state’s ample “blank space.”

“There should be one state that proves you can do it — and it should be you and it could be you,” he said, peering over his reading glasses at the several hundred people in UNLV’s Cox Pavilion.

“If you could do it, no one else would doubt that it can be done,” Clinton said. “You have the natural capacity to do it ...

“Maybe what you ought to come out of this conference with is a proposal to have the national government and investors all over America ... say, ‘Help make us the first completely self-sufficient, clean energy state in the U.S.’ I promise, if you did it, it would rock the world.”

He added that three years ago when he challenged Nevada to take that road, his call was met with skepticism — and though attitudes have changed, realities haven’t.

“We have got to convince people this can be done, and it would be good economics. I am hopeful,” he said. “Now (that) we’re all singing from the same hymnal, we just have to figure out how to turn our good intentions into concrete changes.”

When asked last week whether Nevada has risen to Clinton’s challenge, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a key sponsor of the summit, said it hasn’t. But he blamed the lack of progress on outside forces.

“No, we haven’t, because we haven’t had the support by President Bush and his Republican colleagues,” Reid said.

He blamed Republicans for stalling renewal of tax credits for renewable energy developers, which are to lapse at year-end. If those incentives, which are considered necessary to keep the nascent solar industry on track, aren’t approved by the end of the year, Reid said, they would have to wait for a new Congress and a new president.

“And that is a shame, because people are being laid off now with the renewable energy projects in the pipeline,” he said.

Steve Rypka, a Las Vegas green living consultant who advises homeowners installing residential solar arrays, agreed that Nevada has missed the mark on Clinton’s predictions so far.

“We desperately need visionary leadership to fill in the gap,” Rypka said, adding that both state- and federal-level initiatives are needed. He faulted partisan bickering for stalling renewal of the solar tax credits and said the industry is already feeling the pain.

“It’s already happening. It’s having a tremendously negative effect on the industry,” he said. “There are a lot of potential deals in place that could catapult the U.S. and Nevada into a leadership role with renewable energy. We’re on the cusp ... But we’re seeing a slowdown.”

And he said the upcoming presidential election could mean the difference for the industry.

But Somer Hollingsworth, executive director of the Nevada Development Authority, said he believes the state is living up to Clinton’s expectations.

The NDA sponsored Clinton’s speech three years ago. At the time, Hollingsworth said, the agency had come under some criticism for starting a program to attract renewable energy companies to Southern Nevada.

He said the NDA has helped some solar companies locate here and is in talks with companies planning to bring 500 to 600 megawatts of solar power — enough for about 400,000 homes — as well as manufacturing to Southern Nevada, and that the companies are moving forward with their projects despite the looming lapse of tax credits for renewable energy production.

“I think we have done extremely well,” Hollingsworth said. “If Nevada is rated

No. 1 per capita in solar watts, I think we’ve really done quite well.”

Sierra Pacific Resources President and Chief Executive Michael Yackira said Monday that “while we already have been recognized ... as a national leader in solar energy, we believe there is much more to be accomplished in Nevada.

“All of this potential is certainly feasible and our state — particularly with the solar resources in Southern Nevada — without doubt has the potential to be the solar mecca envisioned by President Clinton.”

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