clean energy future

US elections: The complexity of clean energy in Nevada

A solar farm at Pyramid Lake High School, Nevada. Photo credit: Black Rock Solar via Flickr.  
By Anders Lorenzen

When you have come across news about the US state of Nevada in recent weeks, it has probably been in relation to the US election, and not due to their huge clean energy potential. Sanders and Clinton were both in the state up until last Saturday’s caucus, which Clinton eventually won. And it is worth looking at what is at stake when it comes to energy and dealing with climate change.

Republican Governor, Brian Sandoval has, along with governors from 16 other states, recently joined an initiative for a new clean energy future.

The initiative is called Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future. It sets out to diversify the energy system by investing in renewable energy. It is argued that this would make national economies more productive and resilient while reducing the need for foreign energy imports.

“By taking those actions we would deal with many challenges”, the Accord states: “Current challenges demand new energy solutions.  Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, wildfires and sea-level rise, can negatively impact electricity reliability and the economy. Embracing new energy solutions can provide more durable and resilient infrastructure, and enable economic growth while protecting the health of our communities and natural resources. These improvements will help secure a safe and prosperous future for our country.”

The states now hope that much of this can be adopted into policy changes. Apart from Nevada, this Governors´ Accord was adopted by California, Connecticut, Delaware. Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Responding to the Accord, Governor Sandoval said: “Nevada is considered a national leader in renewable energy development, innovation, and commercialization. This bipartisan Accord provides a platform for Nevada to leverage new partnerships, gain and share knowledge, and an opportunity to introduce our energy advancements to other states. I remain committed to pursuing policies that will allow Nevada to continue to lead the nation in renewable energy production, energy conservation, and the export of energy. Nevada has many energy accomplishments and will continue to seek opportunities that build upon our existing programs, and create new pathways to ensure that our energy sector remains one of the cleanest in the country.”

Nevada has already started working towards meeting the targets in Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was finalized last year. And in 2013, Governor Sandoval signed a bill that would reduce the reliance on coal power in the state. This means that Nevada will be well positioned to meet the obligations of the Clean Power Plan. Those obligations could set the state on a path that, according to an opinion article in Las Vegas Review Journal, could lead the US on renewable energy. The journal says that, taking into consideration all renewable energy sources, including hydropower, the state of Nevada now gets 24% of its electricity from renewables.

Perhaps one the more famous renewable energy projects in Nevada to date is the Nevada Solar One, which is a concentrated solar power plant located in the Mojave Desert. And the city of Las Vegas, which is more famous for being the gambling capital of the world, recently announced plans to source all their electricity from renewable sources. A new large solar farm is an important contribution.  And the many new clean energy projects currently in the pipeline, would undoubtedly contribute to Sandoval’s desire for Nevada to expand on their clean energy leadership.

But not everything appears sunny in one of the sunniest states in the US. Yesterday (Tuesday) it was  Republican party members turn to caucus in the desert state. A caucus frontrunner Donald Trump convincingly won. Trump along with all the other remaining Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination continues to deny the reality of man-made climate change. Governor Sandoval is believed to support the Clean Power Plan, well, at least, he is not threatening to block it, unlike many other Republicans. But he also belongs to that large group of Republican climate deniers.

The Governor is also criticized for his support of residential solar power. While he supports large-scale clean energy projects in the state, the story is quite different when it comes to small-scale residential solar. Governor Sandoval has allowed the only energy company in the state NV Energy to  impose a levy on solar power. And it is believed that is the cause of the collapse of the solar industry in the state.  A levy on rooftop solar is seen as a move by energy companies to fight back against the solar industry, which threatens their business models by making a dent in their profits. With the close relationship between money and politics in the US, as well as the fact that Sandoval has close ties with NV Energy, it is easy to see why Sandoval has allowed it.

But critics, including Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, will argue if Sandoval is really serious about building on Nevada’s clean energy future, he must rethink the rooftop solar levy urgently.

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