Guest Column:

Powerful ambition: Let’s raise bar on renewable energy in Nevada

Fri, Apr 21, 2017 (2 a.m.)

As a fourth-generation Nevadan, I know that when folks in our state set their minds to something, anything is possible. Our can-do attitude and strong independent streak are particularly reflected in our state’s energy sector.

From developing the Hoover Dam to attracting Tesla’s Gigafactory, Nevadans have never shied away from taking on record-shattering energy projects that provide clear benefits for our community.

When we increased our renewable energy standard to 25 percent in 2009, we were taking on a serious challenge. Although our state was, and is, home to world-class solar, geothermal and wind resources, the cost of developing those resources was much higher at that time.

I know firsthand, as I created one of the first solar companies in the country building utility-scale projects and did it right here in Southern Nevada.

It was tough going at first, but the demand for solar power was strong, even then. People simply like the energy independence that solar power provides. And as the years passed and the technology advanced, the costs began to rapidly decline.

Solar power is now 85 percent cheaper than it was in 2009. Wind power is 66 percent less expensive. And geothermal is still providing cost-competitive baseload power. All three are now cost-competitive with traditional fuels and are often the least expensive option.

Even better, the bet Nevada made on renewable energy has paid off. The renewable industries took note of the increased standard, investing well over $5 billion in our state from 2010 to 2014 and spurring a building boom. Consumers also are benefiting, as solar power purchase agreements signed by NV Energy in the last few years are providing our state with some of the cheapest electricity in the nation.

Fast forward to today, and there are few American industries that are growing as fast as the renewable power sector. Over 1 gigawatt of new in-state solar projects came online last year, more than doubling the total installations in the state to-date. And with the completion of those projects, Nevada solar now powers the equivalent of over 360,000 homes.

In addition to providing low-cost power, the renewable sector also is a jobs machine. One out of every 50 new jobs that was created last year was in solar power, and wind turbine technician is now the nation’s fastest-growing job, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

As a result, over 20 percent of the electricity generated in our state comes from renewable power sources such as geothermal, solar, wind and hydropower.

But much of our state’s potential is still untapped.

We have vast geothermal and solar resources. And our wind power resources alone could meet 60 percent of our state’s electricity needs, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory data. That’s all good news, as we also know that the more energy we produce here, the less dependent we are on other states and nations.

Based on my own years of experience in the energy industry, I know our state can continue to be a national clean-energy leader.

But I don’t want to us lose that position, and to do that, we need to keep growing. We’ve nearly reached our previous goal of 25 percent renewable power, so it’s time to challenge ourselves again.

That’s why I’ve introduced a bill to increase our renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2040. Yes, those targets are ambitious. But that’s what our state is about: aiming high and making it happen.

The Nevada solar, geothermal and wind industries already employ well over 8,000 workers, and with the right policies in place that number will only grow.

Let’s take the next step to securing our state’s position as a clean-energy leader.

Assemblyman Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, is chair of the Assembly Energy Subcommittee.

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