Building a Clean Energy Future
Our country is too dependent on oil and fossil fuels, which pollute our air, place our economy and national security at risk, and contribute to climate change. As the Senate Majority Leader, I am working on building a clean energy future that will help provide Americans safe, reliable, and affordable supplies of clean energy.
In March 2012, I released a report that details how Nevada’s renewable energy economy has been aided by federal legislation focused on spurring investment in clean energy and the reform of policies that have accelerated the deployment of clean energy projects on federal lands. Click here to read the report.
Clean Energy and Economic Recovery
Over the last decade, several important federal policies and incentives have helped Nevada and the nation start to realize its enormous clean energy potential. In 2009, one of the most significant steps toward realizing that clean energy potential came when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act). This legislation is helping Nevada become the nation’s renewable energy leader and is making a real difference in our efforts to create jobs and reduce energy costs for American families.
Through the Recovery Act, Nevada has received over $550 million for a range of energy efficiency, renewable, and weatherization projects as well as hundreds of millions in low-cost financing for transmission and renewable energy deployment projects. This legislation provided billions to modernize our electric grid and to enhance the security and reliability of energy infrastructure. The legislation also provided competitive funding for geothermal technologies, biomass research and development, and advanced battery manufacturing. These types of investments are making Nevada’s institutions of higher education, schools, cities, private businesses, and counties synonymous with some of the nation’s most innovative clean energy projects. And these are the types of clean energy projects that can help cost-effectively reduce our inefficient use of dirty fossil fuels, and through the electrification of our transportation sector, reduce our addiction to oil.
I was pleased to help ensure the legislation included extensions of important renewable energy production and investment tax credits, eliminated the previous cap on the credit for residential solar electric systems, and created the new Treasury Department’s (Section 1603) grant in lieu of tax credit program. These kinds of incentives are imperative for protecting our economic, energy and national security and providing business certainty. They have helped make solar electric panels more accessible and affordable for the average homeowner and helped businesses tap into the American innovative spirit, create jobs and build sustainable economic growth, and are speeding the development of Nevada’s and the West’s abundant solar, wind, and geothermal resources.
The Recovery Act has also helped Nevada families permanently reduce their energy costs by providing over $38 million in weatherization funding. Reducing our energy usage by making our homes more energy efficient not only creates jobs, but it can also save families 32 percent or more on their overall energy bills, putting money back in their pockets to spend on other priorities. Examples of the dozens of renewable energy projects that are benefiting Nevada include:
- The One Nevada Transmission Line was awarded $343 million in low-cost Recovery Act financing to build an electricity transmission line to connect northern and southern Nevada and accelerate the development of clean renewable energy resources. This project will run 235 miles through White Pine, Nye, Lincoln, and Clark counties and will carry approximately 2,000 megawatts of electricity.
- The Crescent Dunes solar project outside of Tonopah was awarded $737 million in low-cost Recovery Act financing to construct the nation’s first and world’s tallest molten salt tower solar project. This facility is expected to displace nearly 290,000 tons of carbon pollution annually, or the equivalent of 20 percent of the annual generation of an average coal-fired plant in the U.S. The project is also expected to produce approximately 500,000 megawatt hours annually, enough to power over 43,000 homes.
- Reno-based Ormat Technology secured $350 million in low-cost Recovery Act financing to construct the Jersey Valley geothermal project in Pershing County, the McGinness Hills project in Lander County, and the Tuscarora geothermal project in Elko County. Together, these projects are expected to produce a total of 121 megawatts of electricity, 330 construction jobs, nearly 65 permanent jobs, and increase geothermal power production in Nevada by nearly 25 percent.
- The Spring Valley wind project, approximately 30 miles east of Ely, is Nevada’s first utility-scale wind energy project. The 150 megawatt project will create 225 jobs during construction and generate enough electricity to power 45,000 homes. The wind project benefitted from the 1603 grant program and is expected to generate more than $20 million in tax revenue for White Pine County and the state of Nevada’s Renewable Energy Fund over the next 20 years.
- ENEL North America constructed a 20 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant adjacent to an existing 47 megawatt geothermal plant near Fallon. The solar and geothermal project both benefitted from the 1603 grant program and it is the nation’s first combined geothermal/solar plant. The 1603 grant program provided ENEL with $61.5 million for their Stillwater and Salt Wells geothermal plants in Churchill County.
- The Beowawe binary project is the first geothermal project funded under the Recovery Act to start generating power. The project was funded in part by a $2 million Recovery Act grant, which leveraged an additional $4 million in private sector investment and employed 20 people during construction. The investment allowed for a new binary technology facility that allows waste heat to be captured from the geothermal brine from an existing geothermal plant, allowing for an increase of its generating capacity by 20 percent.
- First Solar constructed the 50 megawatt photovoltaic Silver State North solar project near Primm, which has employed 300 people during construction and is located on approximately 600 acres of public land. When fully operational, the project will generate enough solar energy to power 9,000 homes and displace approximately 42,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of taking 8,000 cars off the road.
- Nevada has received $32 million through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program to help Nevada’s state, counties, and cities implement more than 40 efficiency and renewable energy projects.
- Clark County received approximately $8 million in funds to perform energy audits on up to 25 buildings and make energy‐efficiency retrofits on buildings and streetlights.
- The State of Nevada has received $37.3 million through the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Program.
- The Nevada State Office of Energy has received $34.7 million from the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program for a broad range of clean energy investments.
- The Nevada System of Higher Education was awarded $5.7 million to apply distributed generation and energy accounting and control activities.
- The Department of Defense awarded Fallon Naval Air Station and Hawthorne Army Depot $12.2 million for geothermal energy development and test wells.
- The Department of Energy awarded $5.7 million to a UNLV, Pulte Homes, and NV Energy partnership to dramatically reduce peak demand and improve energy efficiency in a Las Vegas residential community.
- Chemetall Foote was awarded $28.4 million for their Silver Peak lithium carbonate facility for production of materials for advanced transportation batteries through the Department of Energy’s Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative.
- The State of Nevada was awarded $438,573 from the Recovery Act Energy Assurance Planning Program to enhance state and local government energy assistance.
- The NV Energy Smart Grid project was awarded $138 million from the Department of Energy.
- $93 million has been awarded for 25 geothermal R&D, demonstration and exploration projects either in Nevada (20 projects – $72.4M) or to grantees based in Nevada (5 projects – $20.5M), with $93.4 million more generated through industry matching funds.
- The Department of Energy awarded $816,274 to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada for technical assistance on state electricity policies related to clean energy and smart grid development.
- Nevada has received $2.5 million for Energy Efficiency Rebates for EnergyStar appliances.
- The Department of Labor has awarded two grants, totaling $9.8 million, to Nevada for Clean Energy Job Training; Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation ($9.7M) and the Southern Nevada Workforce Investment Board ($100,000), Department of Labor Green Jobs program.
- The Nevada Solar One concentrating solar panel plant in Boulder City, NV, has received $2.9 million through the Sec. 1603 Cash Grant in lieu of tax credits program.
Supporting Renewable Energy in Nevada and Across America
Nevada has the potential to be the nation’s renewable energy epicenter. In fact, I strongly believe that Nevada can become a net exporter of renewable power with the right partnership between federal and state government and the private sector. Nevada’s solar potential is already attracting innovative businesses and southern Nevada’s abundance of clear sunny days makes it one of the best locations for solar energy in the world. Northern Nevada holds some of the largest amount of untapped geothermal resources in the United States, and there are tremendous wind resources throughout the state.
The great economic benefits of realizing this potential is one of the reasons why in August 2011, I joined with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Clean Energy Project, UNLV, and MGM Resorts International to host the fourth annual National Clean Energy Summit.
Following up on similar events I hosted in 2008, 2009, and 2010, the most recent summit included presentations and speeches from Vice President Joe Biden, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, California Governor Jerry Brown, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and other leaders from government, business, labor, and the non-profit communities. These Summits have helped bring Nevada’s potential and clean renewable energy to the attention of the world, including investors and project developers.
The knowledge gained through these Summits has also made it abundantly clear that our nation’s long-term security and environment rests on our ability to access and develop renewable energy resources, and to invest in greater energy efficiency. I am pleased that these events have brought together a diverse group of individuals to discuss our country’s growing energy needs. I look forward to regularly bringing together leaders from across the globe to guide federal and local government in rapidly developing clean renewable energy and growing a green economy.
These important conversations, videos from the events, and policy recommendations can be found on the National Clean Energy Project’s website.
Click here to learn more about the Blue Ribbon Panel on Energy that I created after the first National Clean Energy Summit. The Blue Ribbon Panel is comprised of policymakers, experts, industry leaders, representatives of both business and labor, Democrats and Republicans who are all committed to charting a course to energy independence and creating jobs and sustainable economic growth for Nevada.
Delivering Renewable Power to Nevadans through Transmission
One of the largest impediments to increasing electricity generation from clean renewable sources is access to transmission lines. That is why I introduced legislation in the 111th Congress – entitled the Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act (CREEDA) – that charts a course to a cleaner, greener, and smarter national energy transmission system without sacrificing reliability or affordability. This will ensure a more secure and sustainable energy future for America, and I will be working in the 112th Congress to support similar legislation.
The legislation I introduced last Congress would require the President to designate renewable energy zones with significant clean energy generating potential. Then, an important planning effort will begin in all the interconnection areas of the country to maximize the use of that renewable potential by building new transmission capacity. The states would then propose cost allocation means to fund the new lines in the green transmission grid plans. If either process falters, then the federal government would be given clear authority to keep things moving and get the new transmission built on schedule and funded equitably.
Some of Nevada’s best renewable energy resources are located in rural areas where access to transmission lines is sorely lacking. Upgrading transmission lines in these energy rich locations will create jobs and can power towns and cities throughout our great state. Transmission lines linking northern Nevada with southern Nevada must be built so that we can fully reap the benefits of our abundant renewable energy resources, improve the reliability of the grid, and make energy use more efficient and affordable.
Efficiency and Conservation
As energy costs continue to eat into consumers’ savings, our country must make more serious investments in energy efficiency research and in technology deployment. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and consulting firms like McKinsey & Company have estimated that America wastes billions of dollars in energy annually and misses out on billions of dollars in energy savings opportunities with short paybacks. According to the National Academy of Sciences, energy efficient technologies for residences and commercial buildings, transportation, and industry exist today that could save 30 percent of the energy used in the U.S. economy while also saving money. Reducing energy consumption and becoming more energy efficient in our communities, homes, and businesses is the most cost-effective and practical way to increase total energy supplies, reduce harmful pollution, and protect our economy from volatile energy prices.
Nevadans pay high prices for electricity, and could face additional rate hikes in the near future. Energy efficient homes and buildings reduce the demand for electricity at the utility level and reduce the need for utilities, especially in southern Nevada, to buy expensive out-of-state power to meet peak power needs. Energy efficiency and conservation are practical and cost effective – they have the potential to reduce entire U.S. energy demand by 14 to 19 percent by 2020 without costing a dime in the long run.
That is why I have supported legislation that has improved standards for federal and commercial buildings, as well as appliances and lighting. Thanks to landmark energy legislation passed in 2007, consumer appliances, like dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, and freezers will now use less electricity and reduce consumers’ energy bills. New buildings will also use much less energy compared to existing buildings, as states phase in new design standards and codes based on models created by the federal government. In addition, the federal government is leading the development of technologies that will contribute to these codes and standards in part through the new zero net energy initiative for federal buildings.