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August 2, 2014

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2020 Vision:

Energy office director: Renewable energy industry will see explosive growth

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CATHLEEN ALLISON / SPECIAL TO THE LAS VEGAS SUN

Jim Groth, photographed in Carson City.

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By 2020, solar and alternative-energy-related businesses will surpass gaming and mining as the state’s growth industries.

Nevada currently produces 100 megawatts of solar energy. Over the next 10 years that will multiply by 1,000 percent.

The state could come to resemble Detroit during its boom after World War II, when the auto industry took off. Developing solar, particularly in Southern Nevada, will attract equipment manufacturers. That will, in turn, attract other job-creating industries.

The state should begin to export some of its renewal energy to California or Oregon. Nevada now uses 8,000 megawatts, importing 38 percent of that energy.

That could lead to more stable power bills for homeowners, who now face 3 percent to 4 percent increases in their energy bills.

The state will also see other alternative energy developments.

Geothermal power generates 400 megawatts, most of it in Northern Nevada. By 2020, that should expand to 1,200 megawatts.

Wind power will also develop, but not to the degree that solar and geothermal will.

The Bureau of Land Management holds title to most of the land in the state and environmental clearances are required before masses of windmills could be erected. Also, winds in Nevada are gusty and a steady stream is needed to produce a reliable source of energy.

Traditional power plants will still be needed to make sure there is a constant supply of electricity.

Homes will have computer units that alert owners when lights are on and a person is not in the room. More existing and new homes and businesses will be retrofitted to use solar, geothermal and wind power. Most vehicles will be hybrid or electric, changing the complexion of gas stations which will have to have power charging stations.

All this will cost money, and that’s the key question on whether this all happens.

The $17.5 million solar power project that will produce energy for three National Guard bases, two of them in Clark County, is one example of how to pay for alternative energy development.

The state isn’t putting up a dollar. The company, Sierra Solar LLC, is building the project using federal tax breaks and other incentives. The National Guard will pay 15 cents a kilowatt hour for 20 years, thus avoiding an expected rise in its power bills far beyond 2020.

Jim Groth is director of the Nevada energy office.

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