Benefits of solar power development cross party lines

In today’s highly charged political world, what does it take to bring members of Congress together to agree on a topic?

When the topic strengthens our nation’s economy, our national security and the prosperity of our citizens, Democrats and Republicans can still find common ground.

I am happy to report that on a topic very important to Nevada, and to the entire western United States, members of Congress from both parties are putting aside their differences to support the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act. This legislation, reintroduced July 17 in the House, promotes development of solar, wind and geothermal energy sources on public lands.

The act identifies priority areas and encourages smart siting and efficient permitting of projects in places with high energy potential and limited impact on wildlife and habitat.

Once built, these clean energy projects create new local jobs and other economic benefits without increasing tax rates. As a Lincoln County commissioner, I appreciate that our cash-strapped county and state governments will benefit greatly from these new revenues.

At the same time, this money will fund wildlife and land conservation while laying the groundwork for more such potential project development. Importantly, these projects generate power without carbon pollution emissions that threaten the world’s climate and our children’s future.

Essentially, the legislation spurs additional responsible renewable energy development while leveraging private-sector energy industry investments to create new economic opportunities and environmental benefits.

Nevada is a solar state: We have the highest solar energy resource potential of any state in the nation. With our low levels of average annual precipitation, our sun-baked lands offer unbeatable conditions for generating large amounts of reliable, affordable solar power.

We also rank second in the nation in the amount of electricity from geothermal energy. And Nevada also boasts wind energy resources.

These bountiful and inexhaustible renewable resources are beneficial for a state that has had to pay other states for many years for the coal and natural gas we burned to power our homes and businesses.

Meanwhile, Nevada has large areas of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and some of these lands are appropriate for advancing responsible renewable energy projects.

Already, the BLM has designated five priority solar development areas, also known as designated leasing areas, in Nevada at Amargosa Valley, Dry Lake, Dry Lake Valley North (in Lincoln County), Gold Point and Millers.

It also is considering designation of a sixth area, Dry Lake East, and the congressional legislation would help ensure additional appropriate areas are designated as needed. I urge the BLM to involve local government decision-makers at all stages of the designation process, with consideration for access to the areas by recreation and natural resource-based industries.

A designated leasing area is defined as having high solar or wind potential and lower potential conflict with native wildlife species or habitat, and these areas have undergone a public stakeholder process with the goal of ensuring efficient development within them.

Building utility-scale solar projects in these areas would create several hundred jobs during the construction process, along with dozens of permanent direct and indirect local jobs for host communities.

Typical utility-scale solar power plants serve tens of thousands of homes and contribute millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues. This legislation can help spur the development of more such power plants.

Developing clean energy resources on these public lands would help ensure long-term benefits for our state and for future generations who will appreciate our foresight and care planning for their well-being.

The legislation has enjoyed strong support in recent years from diverse groups of stakeholders, including outdoor recreation associations, energy developers, conservation organizations and associations representing county government.

Passing it into law during this session of Congress would advance Nevada’s economy, enhance our national energy security and bring new prosperity into rural communities. Our congressional delegation can help lead on this important legislation.

Now that’s something we can all agree on.

Varlin Higbee is chairman of the Lincoln County Commission.