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April 25, 2015

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Thinking big — and smart

Aggressive approach is needed for the nation to develop renewable energy

A nonpartisan think tank Wednesday outlined an ambitious plan to boost renewable energy development in America and placed Nevada and the West in the center of it.

The Brookings Institution proposes the federal government create and fund up to half a dozen “energy innovation centers” in the West to study solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and nuclear energy. The centers would be a place for universities, government agencies, federally funded laboratories, military bases, utilities and companies to work together on ideas and new technology. Nevada, for example, would see UNLV involved in a center for solar development and UNR involved in a center for geothermal power.

The report proposes the West because of the abundance of renewable energy sources as well as established research institutions and cooperative efforts. For example, the report notes the efforts of the Nevada Renewable Energy Consortium, which includes UNLV, UNR and the Desert Research Institute and works to expand and coordinate research.

Mark Muro, co-director of Brookings Mountain West, compared the proposal to the way the government created land-grant universities in the 19th century.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun’s Anthony Ramirez, Muro said the country in the 19th century “saw the power of education connected to new regional economies in the rural and hinterland economies of the West.” He said that led to economic growth and job creation.

“We think we can do it again,” Muro said. The Brookings report says energy development could be the “next economy” for the West, bringing jobs and much-needed economic diversification.

The report suggests it would cost up to $2 billion a year in federal money. The report says baseline federal spending for research and development of nonmilitary energy projects is around $3 billion a year.

But an additional $2 billion a year would be well worth it, particularly considering that the nation has let alternative energy funding dwindle over the years. For example, in 1980 the nation spent the equivalent of $8 billion in 2008 dollars.

“If the federal government were to prioritize next-generation energy as much as advances in health care, national defense or space exploration, the level of investment would be much larger,” the report says, suggesting the amount would be between $20 billion and $30 billion a year.

Major investment is needed because this is a vital issue. As we have noted before, the military sees energy independence as a matter of national security, freeing America from its excessive reliance on foreign oil.

The nation needs to come together on this issue and support it. This is in many ways reminiscent of the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. The interstate system has provided an incredible benefit to the country, but it took vision, money and leadership to make it happen.

The country has a clear need for new energy sources, and this plan provides a vision for what could happen. Now the country needs the political leadership and funding. Congress should move forward with this plan.

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  1. A bad idea from Brookings. Picking winners and losers will leave us locked into energy alternatives that we can dream up today, leaving better alternatives yet to be discovered at a distinct disadvantage.

  2. We've picked winners and losers by the Mining Act and the Oil Depletion Allowance, and by not holding companies fully financially accountable for health and safety costs, as well as environmental degradation.

    The Koch Clowns, Cato, Heritage, Freedumb Work, Americans for the Prosperity for Rich People, The Nevada Policy Stink Tank, ET AL, are funded by the inherited wealth crowd, that is too stupid to earn their own and is fixated on keeping what they got.

    Look at the track record of pollution, employee deaths, and consumer rip-offs associated with the backers of these groups, they even support segregated lunch counters in the name of "private property rights."

  3. Where's the clown that claimed China is not building wind and solar facilities? Do you need the link about the world's largest solar plant in China again?

  4. What's the difference between an Institute and a prostitute?

  5. Hooker, Mred, Jeff, are you guys lazy or just incapable of defending your own position with logical counterpoints?

  6. Mred,

    I've got no problem holding energy companies fully accountable. Make them pay when they screw up, that is the way it should be. But 1) we shouldn't have government sanctioned energy monopolies and 2) we shouldn't be subsidizing a single energy company.

    Right now, solar, wind and geothermal appear to be losing bets. All we're doing is a) funneling tax dollars to snake oil salesmen and b) letting a bunch of enviornmentalists feel good about themselves

  7. PS,

    I bet if someone proved solar power did more damage to the environment (through construction of the actual solar panels) you guys would still advocate it because you haven't trained your brains to look past stage 1, the immediate effects. It may actually be the case, today, that green energy (based on our current tech level) actually does more damage to the environment.

  8. AP,

    You again post bogus material even after I've pointed it out (3 times now).

    The New Yorker article about the Koch's was shoddy journalism:

    Not only do the Kochs fund research to fight against cancer, they donate money to theatre, museums and universities. They also fund and or sit on the board of organizations that a) support gay marriage, b) support reforming immigration laws c) opposed the war in Iraq, d) believe in man made global warming and so on and so forth.

    People like you spouting off dumb political rhetoric constantly is severely reducing the quality of the debate...

  9. Patrick,

    I am inclined to agree with you that wind power is a losing proposition.

    I'm not convinced that the same should be said for solar or geothermal, especially the latter, here in Nevada. It seems to me that both of those should have lower operating costs associated with them that other means of power generation.

    I'll grant that power distribution is a bigger factor with either of those than it is with coal or fuel oil plants since the location is fixed in the case of the former and variable in the latter.

    While solar is still expensive due to cost of technology, I don't see any inherent reason why geothermal should be so.

  10. Politics according to hookershaky: "It if the right can't win an argument they just call people names ..."

    hookershaky then goes on to say in the very next sentence: "Down with the Stalinist oil and coal companies ..."

    Should we believe that hookershaky is a member of the right?

  11. gbigs,

    I'll go along with the idea that wind power has several inherent problems.

    But solar does not have any problems that can't be overcome one way or another. Even your main point, that it is not 24/7, does not need to be addressed solely by batteries.

    For example, solar can be used to create hydrogen, which could then be burned for power 24/7. Think of the stored hydrogen as being a kind of battery.

    Also, there are several ways that solar can be used for power production.

    The real argument for solar is that ultimately ALL energy on this planet is solar in origin. It would behoove us to find a way to capture this directly if possible.

  12. I have no problem with nukes at all. I like them. But this article and discussion was centered on wind, solar and geothermal so I limited my scope as well.

    The cost of solar will come down as the tech advances. And combining technologies is exactly what is needed to address certain issues. One need only look as far as a diesel-electric locomotive to see efficient results from doing so.

  13. Some of us are old enough to remember "project independence", the federal initiative that was a response to the oil embargo in the mid-1970s and this editorial (pre-Jimmy Carter) and this editorial smacks of it.

    There are some questions that should be asked which this paper fails to do yet again (does the owner have a pecuniary interest in renewables or something like that?)

    First, almost electricity generated in the country is by nuclear, natural gas and coal--domestic resources for the most part (a good bit of gas is imported from Canada). The national security issue is not an issue.

    Second, if you want to reduce reliance on oil, the simplest and most cost-effective solution is to mandate mileage standards. This would improve national security and improve our balance of payments as a country.

    Third, very little in the Brookings report addresses what the purpose of research in commercialization has to do with publicly funded research. A function of the market is to commercialize ideas. Make it faster, better and cheaper than your competitor. The renewable energy standard in Nevada and elsewhere carves out a set aside market for renewable energy. A place where people can compete and drive down the price of these resources.

    In some cases, such a large-scale demonstration projects, such as gasification federal monies are used to offset the risks of development. This has been done with solar projects as well. I don't see what the technology centers have to do with this is not explained in this column nor in the report.

    Lastly, the report and this column never question the 19th Century land grant university comparison. How is research into growing alfalfa related to solar energy research? Unexplained.

    In addition to being a supported of renewable energy, this rag should also consider the burden of the US taxpayer to fund this idea.

  14. "There are some questions that should be asked which this paper fails to do yet again (does the owner have a pecuniary interest in renewables or something like that?)" - Turrialba

    Yes, it does. A month or two ago there was a story about a wind power parts plant being opened. The Greenspuns have an interest in it, along with the Chinese.

  15. Here is the story that I was referring to earlier: