Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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.