As the nation’s capital creates legislation that is likely to transform the landscape of America from a fossil-fuel nation toward a renewable energy nation, states like Nevada – with its abundant sunshine, wide open spaces and concentrated population located in two major cities – stand to gain.
Nevada has already heeded the call of renewables. Plans for two coal-fired generating plants in White Pine County – by LS Power and Nevada Energy – have been canceled. Another coal-fired plant near Mesquite hit the skids earlier in the year.
Cap-and-trade, which threatens to make global warming emissions incrementally more expensive over time, is one of the bigger incentives to move away from coal, oil and natural gas. But another, a $3.2-billion provision hidden away in the economic stimulus bill passed in February, gives power companies in the West access to low-cost loans via the Western Power Authority that will help extend the nation’s transmission system to incorporate renewable energies like solar.
It’s a first step toward a smarter grid, and an essential step if renewable alternatives like solar and wind farms, commonly built well outside inhabited areas, are to reach the thousands in cities who need more energy, and would prefer it clean and green.
At least, this is the conclusion reached by a new Roper survey, which shows that almost 90 percent of Americans think new home construction should offer a solar option. This is up from 79 percent a year ago, according to the study commissioned by Sharp Electronics Corp.
The $3.2 provision, introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv.), the current Senate Majority head, solves a long-standing Catch 22: investors are reluctant to finance renewable projects unless the transmission lines exist to transport it. But investors are also reluctant to invest in transmission lines until said renewable projects are up and running.
Up to now, the solution to this dilemma has been to build more fossil-fuel plants close to existing plants and tie the plant in to existing transmission. Coal-fired plants are cheap to build, domestic coal is believed to be plentiful, and is also inexpensive, allowing builders to recoup their construction costs quite rapidly.
But let’s go back to that plentiful coal. According to a report released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) late in 2008, coal reserves in the Gillette, Wyoming field are – thanks to reevaluation and a redefining of the term “accessible” – a scarce 6 percent of previous estimates.
Another report from 2007, which dismisses previous methods of evaluating coal reserves, suggests that actual coal reserves across the country might be much smaller than previously supposed. In effect, say some experts, the U.S. only has enough coal to last about 20 years.
In light of this, it suddenly makes sense to build a $500-million line between Las Vegas and Ely to carry solar power. And both LS Power and NV Energy, having scrapped coal plans, are going ahead with transmission planning, because Nevada – with its 2005 mandate on utilities to provide 9 percent from renewables – is finally catching up, even if four years late.
Nevada’s Senate Bill 358, which will allow NV Energy to recover conservation losses through higher rates, is another incentive to go green, even though regional enviros regard it as a utility bailout.
The 2005 law mandates utilities like NV Energy and Nevada Power to produce 20 percent of power via renewables by 2015, and 25 percent by 2025. With the new power line a go, solar energy firms like First Solar should begin flocking to Nevada’s wide open spaces and 360 days of sunshine a year any time now.