Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The green in “green energy economy” is money as much as environmentalism.
That was the message Tuesday from academics, business leaders, governors and other politicians to more than 1,000 attendees at the National Clean Energy Summit at UNLV.
The tone was set in the morning by T. Boone Pickens, a Texan famous for making billions in the oil industry. He is spending $58 million of his own money touting a plan to use a 4,000-megawatt wind farm to free up natural gas for use by trucks and buses. Pickens said the country is “getting close to a disaster” by spending $700 billion a year on foreign oil.
“Critics say, ‘That’s commerce. We’re buying something and we’re getting something ... exchanging money for goods,’ ” Pickens said. “If I can exchange that money for goods in America, that’s commerce.”
He added that if he can also create jobs, tax revenue and economic development while lessening the country’s reliance on volatile Middle Eastern countries for oil, that, too, would be commerce.
Emcee Rose McKinney James said the Chinese word for crisis — as in energy crisis — is made up of the two characters for danger and opportunity.
The summit sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called this energy crisis — which many speakers say is the worst since lines formed at gas stations in the ’70s — an “enormous economic opportunity” if handled the right way. Among the potential benefits, he said, are hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions saved on American electricity bills.
It was a theme echoed throughout the day.
Jim Murren, president and chief operating officer of MGM Mirage, said conservation and green initiatives can save businesses money and serve as a good marketing tool.
Van Jones, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and founder of Green for All, said green initiatives — especially conservation measures — will also help the poorest Americans by lowering their electricity rates and bills and providing new skilled jobs.
Danny Thompson, executive director and treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, said solar projects in the valley are already providing jobs for Las Vegas workers.
Somer Hollingsworth, executive director of the Nevada Development Authority, said more projects in the pipeline will help spur economic development in a region traditionally reliant on the tourism industry. Hollingsworth said he is in talks with at least three solar developers who want to build projects in Nevada, including BrightSource Energy, Solar Millenium and El Dorado Energy. The three companies want to build more than 465 megawatts of solar power, he said. That’s enough power to supply more than 350,000 homes.
State Sen. Dina Titus said the $6 billion to $8 billion Nevada spends on energy every year could be kept in the state if it developed its solar, wind and geothermal resources. Keeping that money in Nevada would also create jobs, as it has at Nevada-based geothermal company Ormat, which employed eight people in 1984 and today is the third-largest geothermal company in the country, employing more than 200 people.
“It really is a win, win, win. The environment is better, the economy is better, national security is better ... We should be doing it in a hurry,” Titus said.
But before these predictions can come true, Reid and other speakers said, it will take action by state and federal governments, investment by private business and possibly a new president in the White House.
Key to spurring a renewable energy economy is passing long-term tax credits for renewables development, which will “incentivize alternative power projects and foster investment in renewable R&D. It’s been estimated that this one action alone will spur $1 billion in investments and create 75,000 green-collar jobs,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The wealth of clean solar power that Harry Reid and others know can be produced here in the sun-washed Southwest will benefit all Americans.”
Speakers said other important initiatives include setting a national standard for the amount of electricity utilities must buy from renewable resources; updating and nationalizing building code and appliance efficiency standards; taxing or otherwise setting a price on carbon emissions; modernizing the nation’s electric grid to accommodate more renewable energy; and invest in research and development for new technology, especially electric cars.
Speakers also said expanding public transportation; funding a weatherization and energy efficiency program for poorer Americans; passing laws to reward utilities for investing in conservation and renewables rather than in traditional fossil fuel plants; and identifying federal lands with high solar, wind or geothermal potential would be important.
They also said states and the federal government should lead by example by reducing their own energy consumption, building only energy-efficient buildings and agreeing to purchase alternative-fueled or electric cars when they become available.
And Reid said he and the other politicians would take the policy suggestions from the summit to both parties’ national conventions this month. He said that although there would be no written list of initiatives he and the other politicians would like to see infiltrate party platforms, the message would be heard.
Many speakers also emphasized that no state was better positioned to lead the charge into this green energy economy than Nevada, with its rich renewable resources. They said Nevada could not only supply its own energy needs with renewables, it could also export electricity to the rest of the Southwest with an improved transmission grid.
One champion of Nevada’s energy export market who didn’t attend Tuesday was Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Spokesman Ben Kieckefer said Gibbons had not been invited.
“Harry Reid decided not to invite him,” Kieckefer said. “It was Harry Reid’s summit, so Harry Reid gets to invite who he wants ... It’s not appropriate to invite yourself to someone’s party.”
Kieckefer added that Gibbons was “not going to beg” for an invitation.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the point of the summit was to have a national conversation about renewable energy, and that Nevada was well represented by UNLV President David Ashley, state Sens. Randolph Townsend (a Republican) and Dina Titus, as well as business and union leaders from the state. Govs.Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Jon Huntsman of Utah (another Republican) were also there, as was U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis of California.