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January 17, 2018

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Letter from Washington:

Nevada lawmakers battle for a position on renewable energy


Leila Navidi

A 25-acre solar panel project is being built by the City of Las Vegas next to the Water Pollution Control Facility on the east side of town on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

In the five years since Las Vegas’ summertime summits on renewable energy started, their featured subject has become one of the country’s most politically divisive policy matters.

When these things started in 2008, both presidential candidates supported cap-and-trade. Nary a soul knew about Solyndra. And, “Drill, baby drill” — well, it would take Republicans another two weeks after the conference closed before they started that chant.

The energy debate’s discordant evolution hasn’t been all bad for Sen. Harry Reid’s annual assemblies: He’s increasingly been able to use the gatherings to showcase his party’s platform, which has its perks in an election year. This year, he even went so far as to call the whole conference “The Power of Choice.”

But while 2012 has seen renewable energy become entrenched as a wedge issue between Democrats and Republicans nationally, closer to home, Nevada Republicans are doing all they can to close that choice gap.

In between taking swipes at failed energy projects such as Solyndra (which received stimulus money) and Amonix (which was slated for stimulus tax credits) and scoffing that carbon credits are a “cap-and-tax,” Nevada Republicans Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Joe Heck have been trying to carve out their own pro-renewable position and sell it to Nevadans as just as good, if not better, for the economy.

For instance, President Barack Obama has been saying all year that one of his chief energy goals is to get more renewable projects — up to 10,000 megawatts worth — running on public lands.

This summer, Heller and Heck released legislation to revamp the approval process for renewable energy projects sited on public lands so the country can meet that goal and improve its pace of clearing new projects.

“By streamlining the development of renewable energy on these lands, Nevada will have the chance to lead the nation in the development of viable renewable energy sources,” Heck said at the time.

Last week, Obama announced that he would be fast-tracking specific projects across the West — including two in Nevada — to meet his stated goal by the end of the year.

Heller and Heck have been making a modified play on renewable energy tax credits, too.

“Nevada has vast potential for renewable energy development,” Heller said this year, when he joined a bipartisan group to push for a renewal of the renewable energy production tax credit. “Renewable energy development as a part of a broader energy strategy will ensure our nation has a diverse and secure energy future.”

Why have Republican politicians such as Heller, Heck and Gov. Brian Sandoval been pumping up an industry many conservative Republicans would like to see fall by the wayside? Part of it’s just basic representative diplomacy. A Republican from Nevada speaking ill of renewable energy is like a Democrat from Louisiana speaking ill of oil drilling: You just can’t trash the home-grown energy industry.

But, Democrats maintain, that doesn’t mean Republican support for renewable energy amounts to much more than lip service.

Although Nevada Republicans support extending production tax credits, they haven’t shown the same affinity for investment tax credits needed to get renewable energy projects off the ground. Tax credits also would make the industry truly competitive with traditional, carbon-based forms of energy and electricity production.

That’s a reminder that no Nevada Republican has called for the cessation of tax credits for petroleum producers, or as Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley’s campaign likes to put it, they are “going to bat for Big Oil.”

But while the parties continue their pre-election jockeying over proper industry incentives, renewable energy experts say the whole political argument is moot until the state figures out a way to sell renewable energy to California, as Nevada has had far more success in producing renewable energy than manufacturing the parts that go into such production.

“The investment tax credit would really help these companies get started in some cases ... but first, you’ve got to work on the first step, which is getting that market,” said Bob Boehm, director of the Center for Renewable Energy at UNLV. “And right now, that isn’t here in Nevada.”

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