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October 31, 2014

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Green mantle sought in Nevada has other suitors

Competition has grown along with support

Since the current recession began, local environmental groups have been saying that increasing renewable energy production in Nevada would mean new jobs.

They said the solution to our climate change crisis was also the solution to our economic crisis.

And soon it wasn’t just tree-huggers singing “Kumbaya” around the renewable energy campfire. When labor groups started showing up at Sierra Club news conferences held beside solar panels, it was clear the environmental and economic arguments had become one, at least here in Nevada.

Now it is true nationwide.

In a speech Thursday, President-elect Barack Obama outlined his WPA-style economic stimulus package. The $1 trillion, two-year plan includes improving the energy efficiency of 2 million homes, modernizing 75 percent of federal buildings, creating a more modern electric power grid and doubling within three years the amount of alternative energy the nation produces. As well as saving Americans money on their own and the federal government’s electric bills, the plan would create construction, manufacturing and installation jobs, Obama says.

“Weatherizing 2 million homes, could save consumers $826 million in the first year, spur more than 400,000 jobs, and avert nearly 11 million tons of global warming pollution,” Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, said in a news release Thursday.

And Nevada enviros and politicians are saying the plan could be especially beneficial in states such as ours, with higher-than-average solar and geothermal resources.

In December Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter to Peter Orszag, Obama’s director designee of the Office of Management and Budget, urging the new administration to include renewable energy in any economic stimulus package.

“The sooner we invest in renewable energy, the more jobs we’ll be able to create in Nevada,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Thursday. He added that Reid sees the stimulus package as “a good opportunity for doing just that. It’s a twofer — it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and helps us ... accomplish goals on a number of fronts.”

The newly minted Environment Nevada, an offshoot of the national green lobby group Environment America, released a report today detailing renewables and efficiency projects it hopes will create as many as 15,000 jobs here.

Environment Nevada is lobbying to see about $1 billion in investment in Nevada projects, including $29 million in solar projects on 20 public buildings in the valley and $1.3 million for home energy audit and retrofit programs. Nationally, Environment America wants to see at least $150 billion of the stimulus package go to energy efficiency, renewable energy and public-transit projects.

But they’re not the only ones who want to help the Obama team spend $1 trillion. Groups across the country are lobbying for renewables projects in their states, too, as well as transportation and infrastructure improvements that are likely to be part of the stimulus package.

Still, doubling the nation’s clean energy output won’t be an easy task, even with Great Depression-style resolve for an economic comeback. Renewables projects require intense initial capital investment, and without an overhaul of the nation’s electrical grid the industry will have trouble getting power from remote resources to population centers.

According to the federal government, in 2007 alternative energy made up 7 percent of the nation’s total energy demand and 8.4 percent of U.S. electricity generation. Most of the electricity was hydroelectric, at 71 percent. Only a sliver — 0.2 percent — was solar, although the industry grew 19 percent in 2007.

Renewables industry groups say they don’t yet know how much doubling production would cost. They’re commissioning independent studies to come up with an estimate.

But whatever the cost, the industry says it’s already clear that investing in green power pays off. According to Navigant Consulting, the solar energy sector alone will create 440,000 permanent jobs and spur $325 billion in private investment by 2016 thanks to tax credits passed this year. Imagine, they say, how many people it could put to work with a slice of a $1 trillion pie.

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