During the opening news conference at the annual National Clean Energy Summit, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid let slip the real agenda.
“The whole point of this event today is to get us off fossil fuel,” Reid said Thursday.
And everybody, it seemed, was on board for that.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was on hand to announce a $105 million loan guarantee for Fulcrum BioEnergy to build a plant in Storey County that converts garbage into aviation fuel. Myron Gray, president of U.S. operations for UPS, said his company is committed to using liquid natural gas for its truck fleet, even if fuel taxes make doing so more expensive. MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren told the audience that a co-generation plant at the CityCenter complex supplies 40 percent of its power needs, and the waste heat is used to provide hot water to guests. Not only that, but the MGM-owned Mandalay Bay Events Center — in which the National Clean Energy Summit was held — will shortly be topped with scores of solar panels.
“Doing this is so important for our country,” said Reid, who pledged he would bring a bill to the Senate floor by year’s end to extend renewable energy tax incentives, despite Republican opposition.
Reid touted his home state’s progress on renewable energy, a good deal of which has come about because of his annual clean energy events, as well as his personal role in crusading against fossil fuel-fired power plants. He touted Nevada’s five utility-scale solar energy projects, its 32 geothermal projects and its new statewide transmission line that will link the power grid as never before.
Since former President Bill Clinton challenged Nevada to move toward renewable energy at the 2008 summit, there’s been a 500 percent increase in renewable energy, Reid said. But the state should keep going, at least until it generates 100 percent of the energy it needs in renewables.
Nevada’s success didn’t escape former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this year’s keynote speaker. “We know this is not some kind of dream. This is not aspirational. This is reality that can be brought to scale,” she said. “I think it’s fair to say Nevada is now one of the leaders in our country in solar energy.”
Clinton said Nevada successfully competed to land the $5 billion Tesla gigafactory — an announcement that came at the exact same time as Clinton’s speech Thursday and that overshadowed the energy summit — because the state had already made investments in clean energy. The good-paying jobs created by projects like Tesla’s allow people to rise to the middle class, she argued. “That is the future of clean energy,” she said.
But, like Reid, Clinton said there’s plenty of work ahead. She noted the excitement over the expected unveiling this month of the iPhone 6. But consumers will plug their new high-tech toy into an energy grid that was designed for the last century, she said, urging work on a “smart grid” that allows technology to better manage energy use.
“If the public and private sectors came together, I think we could accomplish this before the iPhone 7 comes out,” Clinton said.
But it won’t happen overnight, Clinton said. She said the country will have to rely on natural gas as a bridge between polluting fossil fuels and renewable energy, although she cautioned that regulations are necessary to govern how we drill for natural gas reserves. In some cases, the risks will be such that we don’t drill in certain places, even if we know there are gas reserves, because the environmental risks are too great.
“The United States can still do big things,” Clinton said, citing the summit as a repository for creative ideas. “I know we can do better. And when we do work together we can make progress despite all the obstacles.”
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.