October 31, 2017 Read More →

Las Vegas (300 Days of Sunshine Per Year) Advances the National Security Case for Solar

The Christian Science Monitor:

Though gambling and hospitality still make up the heart of Nevadan industry, the past decade has also seen the technological and clean energy revolutions take root in the state. Just outside of Reno sits the most striking symbol of this transformation: the Tesla Gigafactory, a 5-million-square-foot manufacturing facility that opened in 2016 and is meant to supply the company with the lithium-ion batteries it needs to produce electric vehicles.

But in sunny southern Nevada, the focal point of change is solar energy. Last year Acciona, a global infrastructure and renewable energy company, unveiled a 400-acre, 64-megawatt solar power plant in Boulder City, just south of Las Vegas. The third-largest such plant in the world, the facility can power more than 14,000 homes a year – and helped the Las Vegas city government fulfill its promise to power all its municipal and public buildings entirely with renewable energy. The city has since been named among the nation’s top 10 metros leading the way on solar power.

In June, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed nine of 11 clean energy bills passed by the state Legislature. Among them is a measure that restores net metering in Nevada, an issue that was the center of an 18-month tug-of-war between the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUCN) and clean-energy advocates.

Today, solar sees support from a variety of stakeholders in Las Vegas and across Nevada. Beyond environmentally conscious homeowners like Bollea, there are small businesses looking to boost the economy, libertarians defending energy independence, and community leaders working to improve energy cost and access in low-income neighborhoods.

“Nevada is moving forward as progressively as any state in anticipating the advantages and encouraging the deployment of solar power,” says retired US Navy Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, who studies the impact of climate change and renewable energy on national security for Washington-based think tank CNA. “It’s a terrifically exciting place to be.”

But in sunny southern Nevada, the focal point of change is solar energy. Last year Acciona, a global infrastructure and renewable energy company, unveiled a 400-acre, 64-megawatt solar power plant in Boulder City, just south of Las Vegas. The third-largest such plant in the world, the facility can power more than 14,000 homes a year – and helped the Las Vegas city government fulfill its promise to power all its municipal and public buildings entirely with renewable energy. The city has since been named among the nation’s top 10 metros leading the way on solar power.

In June, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed nine of 11 clean energy bills passed by the state Legislature. Among them is a measure that restores net metering in Nevada, an issue that was the center of an 18-month tug-of-war between the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUCN) and clean-energy advocates.

Today, solar sees support from a variety of stakeholders in Las Vegas and across Nevada. Beyond environmentally conscious homeowners like Bollea, there are small businesses looking to boost the economy, libertarians defending energy independence, and community leaders working to improve energy cost and access in low-income neighborhoods.

“Nevada is moving forward as progressively as any state in anticipating the advantages and encouraging the deployment of solar power,” says retired US Navy Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, who studies the impact of climate change and renewable energy on national security for Washington-based think tank CNA.

Rooftop solar advocates across the state say the PUCN’s decision to end net metering in 2015 was a hard blow to the industry. Although a bill passed in the 2017 legislative session reversed the ruling, it will likely take years to regain lost ground, proponents say. Advocates are also disappointed at the governor’s decision to veto two bills: one that would have increased the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, and another that would have expanded community solar use in the state. Meanwhile the debate over whom solar power benefits, and how, rages on. And as of 2015, renewables only made up of about a fifth of Nevada’s electricity generation – with solar only a fraction of that.

Still, the industry is on the upswing. A wide range of stakeholders have found reason to support solar expansion in the region, outside of the fact that Vegas sees about 294 sunny days a year.

Some of it has to do with consumer support of clean energy. Polls show that a majority of Nevadans stand behind the transition to clean energy because of the environmental benefits, the economic potential (clean energy jobs saw a 9.5 percent bump in Nevada in 2016), the relative cost savings, or some combination of the three.

At least as powerful a driver is energy choice.

“The fact that NV Energy has a monopoly on the delivery and distribution of power in Nevada is basically the antithesis of the free market ideal,” adds Sam Toll, communications director for the Libertarian Party of Nevada. “The notion of pushing technology in the free market with respect to solar power, and advancing the capacity and efficiency of panels and systems, is spectacular” – though he draws the line at government actions that favor solar, or any industry, above others.

The military’s presence in the state adds another dimension to the solar power argument. The Navy, Army, and Air Force have all invested increasingly in solar and other renewables in a bid to make the military more efficient, economical, and resilient.

“There are a lot of people around the country who believe that there is a coming transition from fossil fuels to renewables, but are reluctant to speak about it because it’s tied to climate change,” Vice Admiral Gunn says. The national security argument helps pave the way for “a sensible, well-reasoned conversation about advanced energy,” he says.

More: Las Vegas shines as a model for solar power

Comments are closed.