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Harry Reid promotes green jobs as leaders talk clean energy

MGM’s Jim Murren backs Reid during Las Vegas energy summit

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Justin M. Bowen

Sen. Harry Reid joins an energy executive roundtable during the third annual National Clean Energy Summit Tuesday at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus.

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010 | 8:44 p.m.

National Clean Energy Summit

Sen. Harry Reid delivers the opening speech during the third annual National Clean Energy Summit Tuesday at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. Launch slideshow »

State leaders said Tuesday that clean energy jobs are the key to diversifying Nevada’s economy, but the next step is preparing a plan to make that happen.

“We can’t afford to farm these jobs out to other states when we are in the economic mess that we are in,” Nevada AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson said.

During a round-table panel at the third annual National Clean Energy Summit at UNLV, executives from local organizations such as the Nevada Commission on Economic Development, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and Nevada State Office of Energy discussed how to bring clean energy jobs to Nevada.

UNLV President Neal Smatresk said he’s never seen such a significant result as he has in the last year in regards to diversifying Nevada’s economy, while others on the panel noted that Nevada has a long road ahead.

Matt Rogers, senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of energy, said he is most impressed by communities that pull together services and organizations like education, labor, and developers, so that it’s easier for companies to relocate. Rogers said states such as Nevada that are coveting clean energy jobs need to do just that.

Frank Woodbeck, a director with the Nevada Commission on Economic Development, said Nevada is already doing it.

“What we are creating in Nevada is the best environment for new businesses and an environment to attract new businesses to the state,” Woodbeck said.

This year’s National Clean Energy Summit drew about 750 attendees, but fewer big name speakers. Last year’s summit hosted former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

Perhaps the most notable national name on this year’s speaker’s roster was oil billionaire and energy independence advocate T. Boone Pickens. Pickens joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other leaders in a town hall discussion Tuesday afternoon.

Pickens discussed his Pickens Plan, which promotes a radical reduction in the U.S. dependency upon foreign energy, particularly oil provided by nations in the OPEC cartel in the Middle East.

Pickens said that the U.S. can become less dependent on foreign oil by switching to natural gas, which he said is 30 percent cleaner, abundant and already belongs to the U.S.

The issue of energy independence is not only an environmental issue but an issue of national security, Pickens said.

“If we cut the amount of oil we buy from OPEC in half, you are going to see the Taliban go down,” Pickens said.

Earlier in the day at the summit, Reid said he wants the addition of green energy jobs to be a driving force behind Nevada’s economy.

“We have to keep making Nevada the leader and engineer in clean energy. I’m more determined than ever to push for comprehensive Senate legislation to make sure we do that,” Reid said. “Our environment and national security depends on it and so does our economy.”

Reid noted this year’s summit falls on the 81st anniversary of the start of construction on Hoover Dam, the first project to put Nevada on the map for clean energy jobs.

Reid encouraged bipartisanship on energy issues and said the government needs to create more incentives for company’s to become more sustainable.

“Let’s do this because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s politically the right thing to do,” he said. “We need to do what’s right and what’s necessary for tomorrow.”

While he said he shouldn't play favorites, Reid admitted MGM Resorts International is one of his favorite companies as he introduced its chairman and chief executive, Jim Murren.

“I’m so proud of CityCenter. They could have done it cheaper, but they wanted to do it the right way,” Reid said.

Murren returned the praise by saying the $8.5 billion resort complex, lauded as the largest single hiring opportunity in the country last year, could not have happened without Reid’s advocacy. The development created about 10,000 permanent jobs, Murren said.

“At its core, CityCenter is a green development,” Murren said, but added that CityCenter did not set out to become the country's largest green development.

The nearly 17 million-square-foot resort complex houses six LEED-certified facilities with gold rankings, making it the largest LEED-certified project in the country. CityCenter also received the U.S. Forest Stewardship Council’s award for best commercial project in 2009. In addition, Aria and Vdara are two of only three hotels in the world to receive top certification from Green Key, an organization that ranks hotels for their suitability initiatives.

Murren also touched on MGM Resorts' recycling efforts during his speech. He said Las Vegans recycle 16 percent of materials, while MGM Resorts recycles 25 percent of its materials. CityCenter recycles about 50 percent, he said.

Murren ended his speech will one final push for Reid.

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MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses the audience during the third annual National Clean Energy Summit Tuesday at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus.

“People who know me know that I’m a die-hard Republican, but I’m a Nevadan first and I know what’s good for Nevada is to bring Harry Reid home and get elected again in November,” Murren said.

NV Energy Chief Executive and President Michael Yackira said his company has given about $1 million in rebates for energy efficiency and conservation at CityCenter, the largest the company has given to date. He said NV Energy spent about $120 million on energy efficiency in 2008 and 2009.

One of NV Energy’s major efforts is adding new transmission lines and plants, Yackira said.

Its three-year, $298 million Advanced Service Delivery technology project, which will help to replace every electric meter in Nevada with a smart meter that will let customers direct energy use, will be complete by summer 2011. Yackira said the company will be hiring more than 200 employees for the project, which would bring more green jobs for the state.

In regards to renewable energy, Yackira noted that Nevada is No. 1 per capita in both installed geothermal and solar energy. Another of NV Energy’s projects will help to increase those efforts, Yackira said. NV Energy’s ON Line project will connect northern and southern service territories and will allow renewable resources to be delivered throughout the state. Construction will begin in November 2011 and will create about 400 jobs, Yackira said.

“The energy landscape is certainly changing throughout the United States," he said, "but Nevada is leading the way."

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