Looking Toward Nevada’s Clean Energy Future

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Renewable EnergyIt was less than five years ago that Nevada was ground zero for the Western coal rush that was promising “clean coal” and “cheap rates”.  It was during that time that NCL, along with our partners throughout the state, were in an epic fight with our utility and merchant power companies over the development of three new coal-fired power plants that would have produced millions of tons of new greenhouse gas emissions, and effectively eliminate Nevada’s renewable energy industry.

My how times have changed.

This session, the very same utility that proposed the Ely Energy Center, and whose CEO said in February of 2009, “We believe coal is an important resource for this country” has proposed a bill that would divest Nevada from coal within the next decade. This April, Michael Yackira said, “The future of energy in the U.S. and in our state specifically does not have coal in it”—so there you have it.

There have been a lot of stories written by the press about SB123, the “NVision” bill that has been debated, amended, and now approved by the Nevada State Senate. The bill takes coal out of our energy mix in Nevada and replaces it with renewable energy, and if needed, some new capacity from natural gas, or another baseload resource like geothermal or solar thermal with storage. Proponents for the bill range from the Sierra Club to the some of the Las Vegas Strip’s biggest gaming companies. Both Governor Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader Reid support what is essentially a climate change mitigation strategy for Nevada’s largest electric utility.

Some have reported that this bill may have been the most lobbied bill of the session, and if not for the hard work of the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Kelvin Atkinson, we would not be where we are today. We asked the Senate Commerce, Labor & Energy Chairman for his thoughts on the process:

“I am proud of the work our committee has done on SB123 to bring together all of the stakeholders who care about clean energy and reducing carbon pollution. We put hundreds of hours into this bill and I believe that Nevada’s environment, and our economy, will be vastly improved by divesting from coal and investing in clean energy.”

Our Policy Director, Kyle Davis, appeared on Ralston Reports on Wednesday evening to discuss the legislation and the breaking news of that day: Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy had announced that it would purchase NV Energy. This is what we call a “game-changer”. You can watch Kyle’s interview here.

This bill awaits passage in the Assembly before heading to Governor Sandoval for his signature. The Nevada Conservation League not only supports this key piece of climate change legislation, but it also applauds the work of all those who have spent so much time and effort on getting this bill passed.

One final thought: My dear friend and mentor, Charles Benjamin, who passed away less than a year after NV Energy announced their plans to not construct their coal-fired power plant in Ely, NV was remembered at a gathering of friends in January of 2012. I wrote a eulogy of sorts that I still go back and read from time to time. Here is part of what I said:

“Charles Benjamin never backed down and he never walked away from a challenge. This became even more apparent over the last two years as he battled cancer. He came to Nevada because we needed him – to help Nevada see what we could do with ingenuity and determination, to change our course on energy from a reliance on dirty fossil fuels to a bright, clean, energy future. Through his leadership and vision, Nevada is moving well down that road, and for that we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

“Nevada is better off being powered by the sun, the wind, the earth and our own ability to use energy more wisely than we ever would by burning more coal. And largely because of Charles’ efforts, Nevadans will be reaping the benefits of clean energy in the future instead of coal-burning power plants once planned for Ely and Mesquite. The clean energy jobs and economic benefits that Nevada reaps in their place, not to mention the cleaner air and safer water that will be left, will forever be part of his legacy.

“It’s customary to honor those who have passed by naming things we’ve built after them. But in a very fitting way, we also will remember Charles Benjamin as much for what didn’t need to be built. Every time we travel up Highway 93 and head just north of Ely, we will point to a wide open valley in eastern Nevada, take a deep breath of fresh, clean air, and we will remember Charles Benjamin.”

I’m thinking of you today, Charles. I know that wherever you are, you must be smiling.

Scot Rutledge
Nevada Conservation League

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