Clean energy, rural Nevada look to team up

Leaders from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development and state politicians and others pushing to increase the state’s presence in the clean energy sector gathered in Pahrump to talk about the benefits of past and planned investment in the state and Nye County.

Several area residents and business leaders from Pahrump and beyond and others gathered at Valley Electric Association’s conference center on May 8 to hear about the benefits to the state and rural areas with clean energy investment so far and what lies ahead.

Some of the keynote speakers included Paul Anderson, executive director of GOED, along with Nevada Assemblyman Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, in the event hosted by the Pahrump Valley Chamber of Commerce. Other speakers included Tom Polikalas of the Southwest Energy Efficient Project (SWEEP), a public-interest organization that promotes greater energy efficiency across six western states, including Nevada.

Anderson, who took the helm of GOED in 2017 from then-director Steve Hill, said the state has seen a return of $7.3 billion in payroll, taxes and capital investment from $814 million in property tax and sales and use tax abatements awarded to 35 qualified projects in the clean energy sector in Nevada since the program began.

Many of those projects include large-scale solar PV, solar thermal, biomass, geothermal and wind projects that sit throughout the state.

Anderson shared the history of GOED’s evolution from a small office to a force pushing for the diversification of the state’s economy during the roughly two-hour event moderated by Nevada Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump. One sector the office focuses on is renewable and sustainable energy.

The event was presented by Nevada Energy Forums and Expos Nv|EfX and sponsored by GOED, the Nye County Rural Economic Development Association and the Governor’s Office of Energy.

Abatements

Anderson pointed out that tax abatements are given on a performance basis to these operations and the state isn’t just signing checks over.

A benefit of clean energy investment pointed out by Anderson and Brooks was high-paying jobs that have already sprouted because of the investments into clean energy.

Anderson said 5,036 construction jobs were created due to the abatements offered for clean energy projects in Nevada. The average wage on those construction jobs was $41 per hour, he pointed out.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage in Nevada, as of May 2017, was $16.79. The state’s mean (average) hourly wage was $21.65 in the same period, according to BLS.

One requirement for GOED to incentivize a company is also important to keeping dollars in the state.

“One of the things we do at GOED, when we incentivize companies, one of the requirements, is that they have to export products and services,” Anderson said.

That stipulation can be a benefit to the local economy.

“When a company exports products and services, what they import is dollars and that generates jobs,” Anderson said.

According to requirements for companies on Governor’s Office of Energy’s website on renewable energy abatements, facilities located counties with a population less than 100,000 or a city with a population less than 60,000. At least 50 percent of the employees must be residents of Nevada.

Nye County’s future could be brighter with the prospect of clean energy projects, though a critical piece is energy price, Anderson explained in an off-stage interview.

“Energy price is critical in the overall strategy of Nevada being competitive as a marketplace, and a lot of this energy is going to be produced right here in Nye County,” he said. “We’re seeing projects that are interested. Part of it is just land mass, access to open ground and native ground, and access to the transmission lines that go through this valley that might not be accessible from any other place.”

Anderson went on to say, “Nye County’s certainly prime to take advantage of the renewable push that’s really being driven by markets. We have places like Facebook and Google and Switch, who want to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy, that’s got to come from places like Nye County. They can’t come from Las Vegas. They can’t come from Reno because they just don’t have the land mass to do it.”

Future development

Brooks, who is up for re-election in 2018, said policy has been a main driver of much of the state’s development in clean energy. He added that tax abatement legislation for eligible projects, which passed in 2009, was beneficial to the state, especially in rural areas.

“Most of those projects, because they’re huge solar projects, or they’re wind projects, or geothermal projects, they’re built in rural parts of Nevada,” he said.

Brooks is a proponent of Nevada’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and sees it as a major driver of the development in the clean energy space that has occurred in the state. The standard “establishes the percentage of electricity sold by an electric utility to retail customers that must come from renewable resources,” according to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission’s website.

The current standard is set at 25 percent by 2025, according to the PUCN.

“If you take the RPS (renewable portfolio standard) that’s on the books, and tax incentives, that makes it very desirable to build these projects, and pay great wages, and you have a recipe for success,” Brooks said.

A group known as Nevadans for Clean Energy Future is currently pushing for the “Initiative to Promote Renewable Energy” to get on as a ballot measure in the 2018 cycle that would increase the standard, if the group can collect enough signatures by the June 19, 2018 cutoff.

The measure, which would require to amend the state’s constitution, would move the portfolio standard up to 50 percent by 2030. The measure would also have to be voted on a second time in 2020 to pass.

Brooks said the governor vetoed a bill during the 2017 legislative session that would have raised the standard, but it was vetoed by the governor due to uncertainty of the passage of Question 3 (Energy Choice) on the 2018 ballot in Nevada.

Brooks, who is an opponent of the Energy Choice initiative, said Question 3’s passage will determine the course of action the state’s Legislature takes on policies that help create the economic opportunities in clean energy.

Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at jmeehan@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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