Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 | 2:02 a.m.
It’s not often you hear so much cheering when a Nevada factory is forced to close.
It might sound strange, but that’s what happened when Amonix, a company with a solar panel manufacturing plant in North Las Vegas, announced in July that it was shutting down its facility.
Despite this closure, the truth is that the solar industry is growing and innovating.
But the opponents don’t like to admit this; they’d rather celebrate the failure of a Nevada business as a proof point for their claims that private investors aren’t interested in solar or that it can’t compete.
Of course, not every company will succeed in a fast-growing, innovative and global industry. But the long-term trend is clear: Solar is creating jobs, and the industry in the U.S. is here to stay. Solar employs more than 100,000 Americans and is attracting hundreds of millions of investment from some of our country’s biggest investors.
As a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force, I also know that solar power is helping our military strengthen its energy security. In fact, some of the most important innovations are happening here in Nevada, and that’s something truly worth applauding.
At Nellis Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas, more than 72,000 solar panels have been helping power the largest and most demanding advanced air-combat training base in the world since 2007. The base’s commitment to solar is continuing to expand. Earlier this summer, Nellis announced that the 99th Air Base Wing headquarters building is adding solar panels to improve its energy efficiency. It is the first of eight projects at Nellis, Creech Air Force Base and the Nevada Test and Training Range.
The military doesn’t invest in technologies without a good reason, and there’s a very good reason to invest in solar. The U.S. military pays the world’s highest fuel bill, and every time the price of oil goes up, it costs us billions. Our dependence on fossil fuels costs more than dollars — it costs lives. One in eight U.S. Army casualties in Iraq was related to protecting fuel convoys. That’s ironic, since we’re often buying oil from the same countries that are putting our security at risk.
When I served in the Air Force, I saw firsthand how much we rely on fossil fuels and other outdated technologies that we could — and should — replace with lightweight, clean and affordable solar and other renewables.
The good news is that our armed forces already are making the change. In Afghanistan’s violent Helmand province, two Marine patrol bases were powered entirely by solar panels for the duration of a seven-month mission in 2010. If it works there, it certainly can work here.
Indeed, it is working — and putting Nevadans to work. Just last month, a huge new solar power facility was announced in Clark County. The 350-megawatt K Road Moapa Solar project will be the first utility-scale solar project built on tribal lands, and the jobs it creates will help the Paiute Indians and the communities north of Las Vegas.
In Nevada, solar power is creating jobs during tough economic times and providing us and our military a source of clean, affordable power. That’s the real success story of solar in our state, the real story to applaud and a real, growing industry to support.
Paul Lambert served in the Air Force. He lives in Nevada.