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January 19, 2018

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Six things to remember from Clean Energy Summit 7.0


Mikayla Whitmore

U.S. Senator Harry Reid delivers his opening remarks at the National Clean Energy Summit 7.0: Partnership & Progress on Thursday, September 4th at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Fossil fuels took a beating at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on Thursday.

Led by Hillary Clinton and Sen. Harry Reid, calls to rid the nation of carbon emissions were loud and demands to revamp the nation’s infrastructure were clear.

Reid played host along with UNLV, the Clean Energy Project and the Center for American Progress.

Even though the summit was only one day, a lot happened, including talk of Tesla.

Here are the six things to remember from the summit.

Nevada’s legacy in renewable energy

$6 billion: That’s how much Nevada has invested in renewables since the first Clean Energy Summit in 2008. And if Reid has his way, there will be plenty more.

The summit kicked off with an announcement by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the federal government approved a $105 million loan guarantee for a trash-to-gas biofuels plant in Storey County. Reid followed the news with a speech where he laid out the scope of the state’s renewable landscape:

Nevada leads the nation in installed geothermal and solar energy capacity on a per-person basis. There are 32 geothermal plants in the state (two came online this year), creating enough juice to power 400,000 homes. Between Las Vegas and Searchlight, Reid’s hometown, there are more than 4 million solar panels blanketing the ground. Five large-scale solar projects are currently in the works and many of the state’s coal-fired power plants will be phased out by the end of the decade.

The Clinton Network

The Clintons are ubiquitous at the summits. Hillary Clinton gave the keynote speech and came on stage with a salvo that signaled her position as a presidential frontrunner for 2016.

“Sea levels are rising and ice caps are melting,” she said seconds after walking on the stage at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, spoke at the first summit in 2008. Jon Podesta, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and current counselor for President Barack Obama, has been a staple. Dymphna van der Lans, the CEO for the Clinton Climate Initiative, was a panelist at today’s summit along with former President Clinton cabinet member, Henry Cisneros.

No one was happier to see the former first lady than Reid.

“When the history is written on the 20th and 21st century there will be a special place for Hillary Clinton,” Reid said before introducing Clinton.

Enemies of progress

Reid’s Senate twilight will be marked by his push for renewable energy. Public enemy No.1 on his list: Koch Industries.

Reid’s campaign against the Kochs is a staple of his public appearances and he didn’t even have to mention them by name at the summit. He referred to them as “native forces teaming to undermine the support of clean energy.”

“I think each of you know who I am talking about,” he said. “If you don’t, I can repeat their name.”

The next imbroglio in the Reid-Koch fracas will take place on the Senate floor before the end of the 113th Congress. Speaking to the crowd of more than 200 attendees, Reid vowed to introduce a bill to renew tax credits for renewable projects, legislation he says that oil companies will be looking to kill.

The word of the day: Tesla

Everyone was talking about the electric car maker. News broke Wednesday that the company will build a $5 billion lithium ion battery factory in Northern Nevada. When Reid mentioned the company’s name it was met with applause.

“It’s here and I am grateful for it,” he said.

The Nevada Democrat was also quick to pat on the back his counterpart for winning Tesla, Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“We didn’t let our political differences get in our way of Nevada’s future and energy independence,” he said.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk was a speaker at the summit two years ago and Reid sources say the Senate leader was influential in wooing the billionaire electric car barron to the Silver State. Reid told a crowd of 200 summit attendees that Tesla was the product of a $465 million federal loan Musk won four years ago. The company repaid it nine years ahead of schedule, Reid said.

“Tesla is the company it is today because of this loan,” Reid said.

Natural gas is king

Solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels are the most talked about sources of clean energy. But for now they aren’t the panacea. Many of the summit’s speakers said the “bridge” between traditionally burned fossil fuels and new technology will be paved by natural gas.

As coal is phased out of power plants, natural gas and renewables will take its place. By 2030, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated a 30 percent cut in emissions by the nation’s power plants.

A decade ago, the nation’s leaders were skeptical about the long-term outlook of natural gas production. Then came the discovery of giant underground shale deposits. Now, the U.S. leads the world in natural gas production, Podesta said.

He said the U.S. will eventually have an “ultra low carbon emission” policy.” But for now, he said, “there are very important opportunities for exploiting the abundance of natural gas.”

The business of climate change

Climate change wasn’t just a theory kicked around at the summit.

Speakers pointed to scientific studies that highlight warmer temperatures and rising sea levels as a threat to humanity. Summit guests touted business innovations and bemoaned political scuttlebutts. Panelists promoted temperature-sensitive glass and software to cut costs for utility companies and save the grid more than $550 million worth of energy per year.

In the last decade, MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren and his company have revamped its properties. A 6.2 megawatt solar installation sat atop of the summit’s location, Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and many of MGM’s properties on the strip are leaders when it comes to recycling water and conserving electricity. Murren urged other businesses in the resort industry to step up their game.

Only asking hotel guests to reuse their towels is “total crap,” he said.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Henry Cisneros, said the nation’s back is “against the wall” on addressing the effects of climate change.

He said Florida will see its coastlines shrink, governments will have to hoard water and people who work outdoors will have to spend less time on the job because of rising temperatures.

"Wherever we can price the risks of climate change into our decisions, we do the economy a service," he said.

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