Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2022

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A brighter future

Cooperation between state, federal government a key to solar energy growth

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican, have introduced legislation that would provide money to Nevada for solar energy plants built on federal land.

Under the bipartisan proposal, the federal government would auction leases for land to be used for solar developments. The companies that win the leases would pay royalties, and some of that money would be given to the home states and counties. Some of the royalty money would go toward conservation efforts, as Stephanie Tavares reported in Saturday’s Las Vegas Sun.

So far, the proposal has received the support of sportsmen’s organizations such as Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that works to protect habitat and watersheds. The plan is a good, practical measure to help Nevada as the solar industry starts to develop here.

Unfortunately, the plan hasn’t received the full support of the Gibbons administration. Jim Groth, the state energy director, said the intention of the legislation is good but it doesn’t go far enough. He argued, as he has in the past, that Nevada has a problem competing against states such as Arizona and New Mexico because the federal government owns the land here.

Groth wants the federal government to grant the state 3 million acres of land in prime solar energy zones. He said that would give the state and counties the ability to handle bids as well as “how wildlife mitigation efforts should be addressed, and all the other land ownership and control issues.”

In an interview this year with Tavares, Groth suggested that the state could get around federal environmental laws if it held ownership — but that simply isn’t the case.

Let’s be clear: The Gibbons administration hasn’t been hobbled by the federal government, nor is land ownership the silver bullet.

It’s also not really about the competition. Neither Arizona nor New Mexico can boast the type of business climate Nevada does.

The real problem is one of leadership. Gov. Jim Gibbons started his administration as a champion of coal-fired power plants and turning coal into gasoline. Now, after those plans failed, Gibbons is trying to make up for lost time, which will be difficult. As the Gibbons administration dithered, other states made a strong push for the renewable energy industry.

If the Gibbons administration wants to blame anyone, it doesn’t have to look far — it bears the responsibility. Even now, instead of working to develop a positive plan to attract renewable energy businesses, it is complaining, and spouting anti-government rhetoric isn’t helping.

Thankfully, while the Gibbons administration was fixated on coal, Reid was working on bringing renewable energy projects here and helped to prepare the state. Gibbons and his staff should be supporting efforts of the state’s congressional delegation regarding the bipartisan renewable energy legislation Reid and Heller are pushing. It’s going to take a cooperative effort to turn Nevada into what it should be: the focus of the nation’s renewable energy industry.

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