The truth about clean energy in Nevada

In 2008, I invited President Bill Clinton to speak at the first National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. President Clinton delivered the keynote address, and he challenged Nevada to become the first state to be energy self-sufficient by producing more electricity and creating jobs from our geothermal, solar and wind energy resources.

Nevada took the challenge seriously because leaders in business and government saw an opportunity to bring new industries and jobs to the state. Since then, clean energy production has increased by 450 percent as solar, wind and geothermal projects have cropped up all over the Silver State. These clean energy resources are producing enough power for hundreds of thousands of Nevadans and simultaneously fueling our state's tax base. In fact, since 2010 Nevada has seen more than $248 million in tax revenue generated from clean energy projects.

Our state has seen vast economic benefits as a result of clean energy projects. From 2003 to 2010, clean energy job growth measured annually at 5.8 percent. In Nevada, clean energy jobs pay $8,000 more than the median wage for other jobs and are currently projected to increase by nearly 11 percent between 2011 and 2016. And nearly 3,500 construction and permanent jobs have been created as a result of these projects. It's important to note that a project such as the One Nevada Transmission Line (ON-Line) will allow northern and southern Nevada to pool their energy resources and provide the flexibility needed to select the lowest-cost mix of renewable energy resources. This makes additional clean energy projects possible that will create additional jobs.

Nevada would also be foolish to abandon its commitment to clean energy because we are not the only state that has focused on this growth industry. As Time magazine noted this month, since President Obama has taken office, the United States has added 25 gigawatts of wind power, double what had been produced in the years prior, and 5 gigawatts of solar power, more than six times more than prior to the Obama administration. Led by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, this administration has also approved 17 utility-scale solar projects on public lands. The challenge for Nevada now is to leverage these recent successes so we can compete for a sizable portion of the $7 trillion market in renewable energy technology that experts predict will materialize over the next 20 years.

However, the forces of negativity continue their assault on behalf of polluting, outdated and inefficient technologies. And as Time again pointed out, "Mitt Romney has suggested that wind and solar are 'imaginary' sources of energy, but they can now power 15 million homes, and their industries employ more than 300,000 Americans. That's real."

Despite the evidence, there are many - such as Romney - who do not believe Nevada and our nation's clean energy success. That's why I wasn't surprised to read the Aug. 5 Review-Journal editorial, "Green summit: And never is heard a discouraging word." The Review-Journal cited a flawed study by a Nevada conservative think tank about the economic benefits to renewable energy development.

This editorial and the study do not serve Nevada's best interests.

Earlier I discussed the enormous economic benefits Nevada has seen as a result of clean energy projects, but they are worth repeating. Clean energy projects in our state have resulted in nearly 3,500 permanent and construction jobs and $248 million in tax revenue. Skeptics often criticize the number of permanent jobs from clean energy projects as evidence that they do not warrant the investment. The problem with this argument is that they simply discount the value of the construction jobs as if they do not matter. No one applies the same standard to road, bridge or water construction projects because everyone understands their value to the community at large and their relationship to economic growth.

President Clinton gave the keynote address again at this year's summit. He urged Nevada to continue on its path to energy independence. Nevadans have the power to choose the kind of state in which we live. Every decision we make - large and small - matters. I hope in the 10th year of the summit, Nevada will look back at the continued progress we have already made, and Nevada will have chosen to become energy independent.

We cannot allow the skeptics to win.

Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is majority leader of the U.S. Senate.