Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 | 3 a.m.
NV Energy recently played guide to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis as she toured the utility’s massive building that houses its dispatch and operations center.
She was also there to announce a hefty grant for NV Energy’s smart meter project, part of the $3.4 billion set aside by the Recovery Act for smart grid investments.
With the money approved, NV Energy (which will be investing $160 million in the project) will be moving forward with installing smart meters in late 2010. These meters are capable of allowing consumers and the utility to monitor individual energy use.
Some workers there wondered why Solis was the federal official announcing the $138 million grant for NV Energy’s smart meter project, but Solis quickly cleared the confusion.
The money will create jobs.
Before joining President Barack Obama’s cabinet, she sat on the House’s Energy and Commerce committee. She also authored the Green Jobs Act of 2007, signed into law as part of broader energy legislation that year.
As she walked through the dispatch center, she paused to ask a supervisor how many work at the center.
“That’s been stable?” she asked of the work base. “Even in this economic (recession)?”
Yes, she was told.
She nodded her approval.
Later she was shown the warehouse space where electricians refurbish old electric meters and technicians were busy testing smart meters.
There were a couple of bins full of the old meters, and rows upon rows of meters on racks waiting for a new home.
Asking one of the electricians refurbishing meters, she asked him “Do you see this as a good future for other people to get into?”
“Yes, definitely,” the 27-year journeyman said.
At the press conference following the tour, the power went out to the podium’s microphone when a circuit breaker popped not once, but twice.
The second time it happened, Solis, speaking into the microphone, laughed. “I’m just going to keep talking,” she said.
Solis is confident that the clean energy economy will create tens of thousands of jobs, most of which will be long-term careers, she said.
Solis was in town to tour NV Energy’s building before announcing $138 million in stimulus funds awarded to the utility.
NV Energy was one of 100 companies to receive a portion of $3.4 billion in stimulus funds set aside for building smart grid infrastructure.
NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira said he expects installation of the smart meters to start late next year. He expects the company to hire about 200 workers to install the 1.45 million meters.
“Our project will enable our customers to have more control over their energy usage and provide real time information on energy pricing and consumption,” he said. “This has the potential to provide dramatic change in the way we interact with our customers and the way we run our operations.”
The grant and the smart grid installation will have to be approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
During the tour, Solis was also shown a dispatch center that monitors the Las Vegas Valley’s electrical grid.
“America can’t build a 21st century clean energy economy without a smart, strong and secure electricity delivery system,” Solis said following the tour. “It’s a good message to be able to tell homeowners and people, senior citizens and disabled, and young families, you know, there’s going to be a turnaround here shortly. We’re going to try to help you reduce your energy consumption, and the cost, so that you can continue to have a quality of life.”
Because workers will be needed to install not only the smart grid technology, but also renewable energy throughout the U.S., she said her department is working closely with the Energy Department to get workers trained.
“(Smart metering) is going to create more jobs, better jobs, and hopefully incentivize other states that haven’t participated to get on the ball,” Solis said, adding that the $3.4 billion investment in smart grid technology is the largest of its kind in U.S. history. She said she expects to see job creation related to this investment as early as February.
All but one state, Alaska, will be receiving some portion of the $3.4 billion set aside by Recovery Act.
Solis said there aren’t enough workers who are properly trained and prepared. The stimulus funds have also set aside to train workers.
But labor federation chief Danny Thompson of AFL-CIO Nevada said afterwards that workers are trained and ready to go to work immediately.
“I don’t think there’s a giant need to train people,” he said. “Weatherization is an example. I have thousands of people that could go to work tomorrow and yet that money is sitting at the state.”
Nicole Lucht covers health care, workplace, energy and banking issues for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. She can be reached at 259-8832 or at [email protected].