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October 2, 2014

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Obama administration pitches clean energy in Las Vegas as deadline looms

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Justin M. Bowen

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the National Clean Energy Summit Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at the Aria Convention Center.

Clean Energy Summit 4.0

ENN Group chairman Yusuo Wang, speaks during the National Clean Energy Summit Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at the Aria Convention Center. Launch slideshow »

The Obama administration’s top brass came to plead the case for continued public investment in clean energy in Las Vegas today, striking a hopeful tone.

But the pitch came with a sense of urgency: In just about a month, a large chunk of the public funding available to underwrite the sort of clean energy projects being touted at today’s National Clean Energy Summit will dry up, and while the president’s energy advisers have plans to keep the investment going, they’re all dependent on one thing Washington doesn’t have much of right now: money.

Renewable energy appropriations, especially direct grants and loan guarantees, come under the knife in the budgets emerging from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where constitutionally, all spending bills must start.

To preserve the pot, Obama administration officials are going local with their message.

“Look at what’s going on right here in Nevada. A federal loan guarantee is helping build one transmission line,” said Vice President Joe Biden, the keynote speaker at the conference. “We’re only providing seed money, but we’re helping countries take projects out of the lab and turn them into companies...these are projects that aren’t just capturing public attention they’re attracting private capital.”

They’re also making the case based on costs, promising the underwriting won’t continue indefinitely.

“We will need subsidies for a little while, but not for the indefinite future and we do expect that renewables will, whether it going to be competitive 10 years or 20 years from now, it’s going to be on that time scale,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “And it will certainly be far less than the amount we needed for other traditional energies, like oil and gas.”

Biden encouraged the audience to dream big, calling on the legacy of past presidents who made large scale investments and warning that if the country didn’t do the same on renewable energy investments, “we are going to lose.”

“I can assure you the president and I are not going to listen to those [naysayer] voices, and I hope to God you won’t either,” Biden said.

But dreaming big doesn’t seem to be the problem in Nevada.

Sen. Harry Reid, the emcee of the conference, has said that Nevada could be the “Saudi Arabia” of renewable energy.

Chinese company ENN Group Chairman Yusuo Wang recalled that phrase when he outlined what else Nevada could sustain beyond solar.

“With most of its ... land being either desert or sandy wasteland, Nevada holds real potential for solar energy farms,” he said through a translator. “If we were to take 1 percent of Nevada to grow microalgae, we could absorb 61 million tons of carbon dioxide; that's equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from forty 1,000-megawatt gas plants a year.”

But for all the excitement, that potential is still mostly potential.

“There’s a great opportunity for our state,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. “I agree with Senator Reid, I do believe we can be the epicenter of renewable energy not only in the United States but in the world and I’m going to work very aggressively to make sure that happens.”

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