State must do more than just talk about renewables

Why is it that the hottest air in renewable energy proposals always seems to come from a politician outside Nevada?

Even as UNLV hosted the National Clean Energy Summit this week, Nevada was still largely talking about its potential. As the Olympics prove night after night, all the talking, preparation and inherent bountiful skills only go so far if the rest of the world is already out there doing it.

Yes, Nevada is the “Saudi Arabia” of the United States. We have the resources — sun, air, biomass. And we have public support for clean, green living.

But T. Boone Pickens wants the world’s largest windfarm to be built in the Texas panhandle.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants the Big Apple to be the big windy city, trying to put the “Second” in Chicago’s other nickname.

Of course, for many Las Vegans, just having everyone show up here for a big environmental symposium was a bolt of credibility. Then reality sets in. Nevada businesses bilked the state out of green-energy tax breaks by making some parts of already-planned construction adhere to national standards. The greenness inside these casinos however, with 24-7 smoking and no natural light, is still all left on the felt.

Maybe Nevada politicians will be inspired by the vision of Bloomberg or the bottom-line sense of Pickens.

The last big vision thing to come from a Nevada pol was Oscar Goodman’s support of an 80,000-seat football stadium.

Over the 10 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve watched Nevadans digest a steady environmental diet of no nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain coupled with the promise and hope of good green jobs and lower energy costs. We’ve been told about our seemingly limitless potential — all those days of sun and wind and geothermal features that would be the envy of the world.

But it’s the lesser-ordained places that are proving potential doesn’t matter as much as simply doing it.

Some Nevadans may know about the state of gaming in Atlantic City, what with so many of New Jersey’s casinos owned by operators here. But few know Atlantic City has wind turbines churnin’ along the coast.

Atlantic City — our second city — has beat us to the environmental punch.

McCarran International Airport officials bleat a lot about airline industry woes. But they could be saving a little money if they put up some wind turbines like Boston’s airport has. Apparently they don’t interfere with radar, after all.

Bloomberg may be a lame duck with lamer prospects of national office, but it takes a bit of courage to try to redesign the skyline of a city still arguing about what should be built at 9/11’s Ground Zero.

“When it comes to producing clean power, we’re determined to make New York the No. 1 city in the nation,” Bloomberg said in Las Vegas.

Bloomberg’s vision sees wind turbines not just off the coast of Long Island, but on top of bridges and skyscrapers, too. The New York of the future may have as many skyscraper farmers as it does hedge fund managers.

Will the Las Vegas of the future have as many photovoltaics as it does celebrity photos? Right now it’s just Oscar and his dream of an annual Super Bowl.

I’m sure the stadium won’t have turbines given how the wind could impact the passing on the field.

The turbines might even impact betting lines. In such a case, green energy would once again lose to the greenbacks.

The biggest exception to the “what if” scenarios in Nevada is the Nevada Solar One project just outside of Boulder City. If you’re driving to Searchlight or Laughlin, you might think it’s some kind of a mirage. Thankfully, that project is not too good to be true.

It’s 400 acres, cost $270 million and emits zero greenhouse gases. The parent company, Acciona Solar Power, says it is the third-largest such plant in the world.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid spearheaded this week’s energy summit and thinks it is likely Las Vegas will host another forum like it next year. Maybe that’s the best news Nevada can hope for on the renewable front.

By next year, we might actually see a competition to find out which properties can truly go the greenest. Maybe the energy summit will require the host hotel to do more than just ask guests to re-use towels.

And maybe there will be plans for turbines at the CityCenter project. Maybe the Luxor could replace some of its cool black glass with photovoltaics.

Hey, some tourists wouldn’t mind cooking.

The Stratosphere could really kick it up to heights previously unknown. It always feels windy up there anyway. Turbines would look as natural as the people who already pay good money to hang off the thing.

The potential in Nevada, even in Las Vegas, may be limitless.

This week’s symposium at UNLV might someday be credited as visionary. Let’s hope by then we’re not playing catch up to all those people with less wind potential but more hot air.

Contact Erin Neff at or 702-387-2906.

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