Several Nevada government and business leaders said Monday they see a bright future for renewable energy projects in the state under federal rules tightening pollution controls for greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.
Nevada doesn't rely much on coal for electricity, and officials at a sun-drenched event beneath solar power panels at Las Vegas City Hall said the new Environmental Protection Agency rules could boost the business of converting sun, wind and geothermal energy to electricity.
"Nevada has been ahead of this curve for a long time," Jennifer Taylor, executive director of the nonpartisan Clean Energy Project, told reporters.
Coal is imported to Nevada for use at three remaining coal-fired power plants, but the state exports solar power to California. Taylor said the state could also become an exporter of geothermal and wind energy if projects are developed.
City, county and Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce officials joined Taylor and executives with solar power companies First Solar and Enel Green Power to say they don't believe Nevada will have trouble meeting the new federal mandates.
The officials pointed to a list of 150 companies that they said support a statewide renewable energy plan, and Sierra Club members toted signs calling clean energy the future.
Using 2012 as a base, the EPA expects Nevada to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 15.5 percent by 2030.
The EPA said Nevada has one of the more stringent state goals, compared with other states.
But the state's dominant utility, NV Energy, predicted it can meet the standards with no increase in customer rates. It withheld comment on specifics until the ruling could be evaluated.
"We supported the rule as it was proposed in June 2014, including the building block and flexible compliance concepts," company spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in a statement. "We do not anticipate a significant impact on our customer rates as we move towards reliable renewable generation methods and reducing our emissions."
NV Energy is due to shut down an aging coal-fired power plant in southern Nevada, near Las Vegas, in 2017. Other coal-fired plants in the state are near Winnemucca and Elko.
About two-thirds of Nevada's electricity is derived from burning natural gas, which emits about half the carbon dioxide as coal but still draws criticism from environmental groups as not totally clean.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who will host President Barack Obama at an eighth annual green power conference later this month in Las Vegas, voiced support for the new EPA rules.
Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval's energy chief, Paul Thomsen, called Nevada well-positioned to comply.
But U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican running to replace Reid in the Senate, said he feared the rules "penalize those that depend on fossil fuels for energy and the jobs they provide."
"This plan is not the all-of-the-above energy strategy needed to boost job creation and reduce energy prices for families," Heck said.
Heck's Democratic opponent, former Nevada state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, called the EPA rules a bold step to lower carbon emissions.
Masto said abundant solar, wind and geothermal energy sources in Nevada have helped create jobs that she said can't be shipped overseas.