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July 27, 2021

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Power players examine energy from many sides

National Clean Energy Summit returns at a time of heightened debate about the nation’s future

A year off

After a hiatus in 2016 — due to the presidential election and the retirement of founder and former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid — the summit is back for its ninth edition since 2008, with Reid and Gov. Brian Sandoval co-hosting. “It’s been really fun to work with Sen. Reid on this,” Wayland said. “He has more time to think, so he’s very engaged.”

Summit events on Oct. 12 and 14

• Thursday: A welcome reception at Las Vegas City Hall from 6-8 p.m. features Mayor Carolyn Goodman, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Clean Energy Project director Karen Wayland.

• Saturday: Tours of clean energy sites include: Las Vegas Cyclery; Sempra’s Copper Mountain Solar Complex; the city’s Water Pollution Control Facility; Switch’s data centers and the First Solar facility helping to power them.

There are those who thought no act could follow the 2015 edition of the National Clean Energy Summit, which featured then-President Barack Obama and The Killers on the same Las Vegas stage. The event founded by former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has been advancing the conversation about renewables for the past decade, but its relevance is underlined by the politics of the moment.

President Donald Trump put forth his plan for a new American policy of “energy dominance” at the end of June, laying out goals to open protected offshore lands to drilling for oil and gas; build a petroleum pipeline to Mexico; finance overseas coal plants; and expand the nuclear energy sector and U.S. exports of natural gas. Then this month, as his administration stressed its intent to leave the Paris Climate Accord, the governors of 14 states and Puerto Rico announced they remained on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the globe-spanning agreement.

The president’s focus may be elsewhere, but clean energy development continues to draw bipartisan support. That is exemplified by the impressive roster of speakers who’ll appear at the National Clean Energy Summit on Oct. 13 at the Bellagio.

“We will have a bipartisan panel of mayors, a bipartisan panel of governors; we’ll have some people in the room who believe that a vertically integrated utility is the best way to provide clean energy, and others who believe that full-on consumer choice is the best way. We’re hoping that Nevada will continue to be viewed as a place where these kinds of conversations of national import can happen,” said Karen Wayland, executive director of the Clean Energy Project, which helped organize and is cosponsoring the event with MGM Resorts International. “Having this diversity of opinion about how to advance the clean-energy agenda is what the summit is all about.”

Past editions have featured industry powerhouses ranging from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, and this year’s lineup includes former Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, along with a host of other leaders in politics, business, technology, the military and the arts. The theme is “Integrating Innovation,” exploring the benefits of advanced energy tech in terms of the environment, the economy, national security and the American way of life.

“How do you take full advantage of all the innovation out there? How do you bring it online? How do you deploy it in a way that reduces costs, cleans up the electricity sector and gives consumers more options?” Wayland said. “That’s what we’re going to be exploring.”

Here are highlights from the summit’s Friday agenda:

9:40 a.m. — Former Vice President Al Gore

The Nobel laureate will discuss the important role clean energy plays in the fight against climate change.

Karen Wayland, executive director of Clean Energy Project (the summit’s co-sponsor): “I think he’s really going to set the stage and say, ‘There’s no debate — climate change is happening.’ I don’t know for sure, but he is probably going to build this idea of: It’s worse than we thought; it’s happening right now; and here’s where it’s happening. But then he’ll go into the clean-energy solutions, because he’s all about the solutions.”

11 a.m. — Changing Perspectives: Envisioning Renewable Energy

Through his long-term project, Changing Perspectives, documentary and fine-art photographer Jamey Stillings shares his aerial vision of renewable energy development in the American West and internationally. Featuring recent work from Chile and Japan, Stillings’ art, published and exhibited around the world, is meant to inspire, inform and challenge us to envision a future where renewable and sustainable energy production replaces our dependence on fossil fuels.

Wayland: “He actually did a book documenting the construction of the Ivanpah (solar power) facility (in Nipton, Calif., about an hour from Las Vegas). It’s just stunning photography. Some of it’s black and white, some of it’s really colorful. He did a lot of work in Japan, and shows the contrast to Nevada, with it’s stark desert and large, open areas. Japan has not that much open land anymore, but they’re still installing utility-scale renewable energy, and they’ve got solar panels floating in a lake. ... He’ll talk about how renewable energy is being integrated into the landscape.”

Noon — Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

Plated lunch and a fireside chat.

Wayland: “He’ll talk about innovation across the spectrum, from early stage research and development to things that are just emerging from labs that might be ready for commercialization.”

1:45 p.m. — Advanced Energy Innovation and National Security

The Department of Defense is integrating innovative energy technologies across its mission space, from biofuels for fleet vehicles to microgrids for powering bases to solar and battery applications for individual soldiers in the theater. Military experts will discuss the national security implications of transitioning to advanced energy systems, including reducing potential for global conflicts, reducing soldier fatalities and improving energy resilience of DOD facilities in the U.S. and around the world.

Wayland: “Sherri Goodman, who was the first civilian leader in the Pentagon to tackle this kind of energy-security, climate-security issue and really developed out its cross-force energy-security mission, she’s going to moderate. We’ve got a retired general and a retired admiral, and they both speak really eloquently about the need for energy security and the different components. It’s not just about protecting the soldier on the battlefield. It’s about economic security, because we should be developing technologies that the rest of the world wants to buy and install, and energy insecurity in other parts of the world can lead to overall instability. And then the basic issues about how you protect the soldiers, from reducing fuel use in facilities that reduces the need for fuel convoys, to really cool advanced technologies for soldiers to bring out to the field that might be powered with solar.”

2:30 p.m. — Go Big: Integrating Renewables Onto the Grid

With wind and solar now cheaper than ever, rapidly decarbonizing the grid — and saving money along the way — is more feasible than ever. But integrating large fractions of variable energy sources requires new strategies and a new business model for utilities. Energy Innovation CEO Hal Harvey will discuss how to balance the grid and handle variability at a low cost, or even great savings.

Wayland: “I think the argument he’s going to make is: We don’t necessarily need more new technology to take full advantage of all the solar and wind that’s out there. In fact, what we need to do is look at the ways we manage the grid right now — the markets, the size of the regional grids we’re using to manage all these flows of electricity.”

4 p.m. — States Leading the Charge

Brian Sandoval, governor of Nevada and current chair of the National Governors Association, will convene a panel of governors to explore how state investments in innovation and support for clean-energy initiatives are increasing the deployment of renewable energy, reducing energy consumption, improving the environment and driving economic growth.

Wayland: “The governors will be talking about the kinds of policies they’ve been pushing to further the clean-energy agenda. ... It doesn’t matter what stripe they are — I think they’re all going to believe that there are huge economic benefits.”

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