Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010 | 4:23 p.m.
Sharron Angle has never been a champion of renewable energy. But in the last days of her campaign, her established disdain appears to have morphed into a call to dismantle the green jobs industry, one of Nevada’s few – and probably best – hopes of climbing out of the recession.
At her campaign rally Friday evening, Angle’s camp showcased a video featuring scenes of what the Tea Party has identified as Washington’s betrayals of the past few years, among them: the passing of the health care bill, the passing of the stimulus bill, and Obama’s signing a renewed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (which, as history buffs and adults over the age of 30 will recall, was actually the construct of Republican presidents: conceived of by Nixon, proposed by Reagan, and signed by Bush I).
Part of the montage was this unmistakable visual message: “Green Jobs: SCAM” – a full-screen shot that displayed the words in white against a dark green background, with the word “SCAM” appearing most prominently in the center of the screen.
With that, Angle’s espousing a line lifted straight from the Tea Party playbook: that investing in green energy has created no jobs, and should be stopped.
That could possibly be construed a reasonable argument but for one thing: in Nevada, it’s palpably untrue.
The idea that Nevada’s ticket out of the recession rides on an industry that has yet to come to its full fruition isn’t just a talking point for Harry Reid’s campaign.
To be sure, Reid’s influence has been the chief reason so many stimulus dollars and government backed loans have come to Nevada for solar panel construction, geothermal development, and energy transmission projects – all of which have and are expected to continue to create high-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced; not even to other states, much less countries.
Republicans and Democrats across the state have grasped onto Reid’s renewable gravy train as simply the newest way to do what Nevadans have been doing since the pioneer days – use the resources of the land to develop and deliver a product that’s in high demand across the country.
Green jobs investment is no longer a proxy debate about global warming, or the merits of “reduce, reuse, recycle” versus “drill, baby, drill.” It’s about pure state self-interest in the face of market-driven economics.
As states across the country dedicate themselves to achieve renewable energy standards in the coming years, several states – Nevada among them – have seen an opportunity to build a home-grown energy industry.
For Nevada, the customers are close by. California has committed itself to having 33 percent of its electrical energy come from renewable resources by 2020. That’s the most ambitious standard in the country, but #2 is also a close neighbor – Colorado expects its electrical production to be 30 percent renewable by the same year.
That creates, in effect, an open market. Nevada’s got no close regional competitor for large-scale renewable energy construction, not even from neighboring big-nuclear-power states – because nuclear fuel, though powerful, is still a non-renewable resource, and thus doesn’t help those states get any closer to their benchmark goals.
Nationwide, Nevada isn’t alone in its endeavor to answer the call for a new market, and create an industry that wasn’t there before. In North Dakota, Republicans have been some of the most vocal backers and boosters of wind energy, calling it a “smart growth” resource. North Dakota’s progress in wind energy has also benefitted from political infighting among its neighbors, that has hampered similar development in other, equally windy, Plains states.
Similar things are happening across the pond. Europe is probably the highest-concentrated area of energy-consuming states with almost no domestic carbon-fuel resources. It’s also the part of the world that’s the most advanced in terms of nuclear energy technology and production, and most dependent on its use.
But Europe is right now doing everything it can to get in on the green jobs revolution.
In the last two years, German firms have been buying up land in North Africa, to set up solar fields in the high-heat deserts of Algeria, Libya, and Morocco that they say could harness enough energy to power over two-thirds of Europe and Northern Africa by 2050. They plan to harness the sun’s energy in North Africa, and then run cables under the Mediterranean to bring that energy to Europe.
Even France, which covers almost 80 percent of its domestic energy needs from nuclear power plants, appears to have seen the renewable writing on the wall, leading it to similar investments in Morocco.
That’s food for thought in Nevada, where the sunshine and terrain are much the same, but where the candidates right now are bickering over what the best engine is to create energy jobs: invest in renewables, as Reid has done and wants to continue to do, or open up Yucca Mountain as a nuclear reprocessing site, as Angle wishes.
(Interestingly enough, John McCain, one of nuclear energy’s biggest boosters, was also headlining Angle’s campaign event at which the “Green Jobs SCAM” video was shown. McCain has complained in the past that Reid’s insistence on keeping Yucca Mountain nuclear-free is holding up plans to expand nuclear development.)
As an industry-in-development, Reid’s plan does depend not so much on government dollars as government guarantees, so that corporations wanting to build the plants that will produce renewable energy can get the optimum low-interest loans necessary to break ground on shovel-ready projects. That’s been Reid’s role thus far: to make sure the pipeline for development stays open from Washington’s end.
There’s a far more existential crimp in Angle’s plan. A critical piece of nuclear reprocessing is the cooling mechanism, usually done with water; one of those non-renewable resources that Nevada has in very short supply. In her mid-October debate with Reid, Angle suggested an alternative: liquid metal.
The process she’s referring to is known as “pyroprocessing” – which like the name suggests, is supposed to be a higher-temperature way of rendering spent nuclear fuel innocuous. While the idea gained some traction as a concept earlier this decade, and a few U.S. patents were issued for designs, the practice soon fell out of favor in the industry, and is barely in use worldwide – even though several countries reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
The best hope for resuscitating liquid metal plants appears to be if “Generation IV” reactors ever come online; but those aren’t expected to be anywhere near ready for commercial construction before 2030.
To be fair to Angle, she in her own, uttered words, has never gone further than to call green jobs “designer” jobs: it’s just that the video her campaign is airing to its supporters displays a full-screen “Green Jobs SCAM” graphic over a picture (much like the words-and-images mockups for things like “Cash For Clunkers” that precede it).
But to be fair to the industry, we’re not talking about jobs that don’t already exist in limited, industry-opening numbers, or demand an advanced technological degree. It may take scientists to design the factors of renewable production, but it takes manufacturing factories to build the products, and maintenance workers to keep them running – a modern blue-collar (make that green) economy.