Last week, we published a list of questions we hoped would be addressed at this year’s National Clean Energy Summit. It was more a rhetorical exercise than an actual line of interrogation.
So imagine our surprise when energy consultant Rose McKinney-James cited the article in an introduction to her panel discussion. She and four others talked about “Optimizing renewable energy development,” during which they discussed several of the questions we posed.
Specifically, they talked about the role of renewable portfolio standards, where states require that a certain percentage of energy come from renewable sources. Kevin Smith of Solar Reserve said they should be higher, since most states have met initial goals.
And they also talked about the obstacles to generating a selling energy to other states. The problem is that power companies have always operated as little fiefdoms, kingdoms protected by high walls and mandated monopolies. They are not used to working together.
But they’re going to have to learn. Energy solutions will have to be regional, not local. That means that California power companies will have to reach out to Nevada, and vice versa. Let’s hope it happens soon.
* * *
Elsewhere at the Clean Energy Summit, people were buzzing about the PTC. What’s that, you ask? It’s the production tax credit, a subsidy for renewable energy that’s set to expire at the end of this year for wind producers. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is trying to get an extension.
Unfortunately, he’s fighting against the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party Republicans, who have vowed to fight it. But here’s the bright side: Most wind energy is produced in blood-red, deeply conservative rural states. And wind turbines have been a lifeline for drought-wracked farmers. So Reid has Republican support from places like Iowa.
I had lunch with a representative of the National Sierra Club who was pretty sure the extension would pass. All of a sudden, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley looks like an environmental hero.
* * *
The bulk of the summit is devoted to politics and public policy. Thankfully, before lunch, attendees enjoyed the science fair portion of the event, which featured tiny batteries, kite-like wind turbines and microbes that make fuel. All of them were supported by ARPA-E, the U.S. Department of Energy’s innovation lab, which is modeled on the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). You might have heard of DARPA, which invented the Internet. They started that project in 1968, so don’t expect to see any high-tech batteries or power-generating kites any time soon.
* * *
The U.S. wind energy industry is now producing 50 gigawatts of power, thanks in part to the Spring Valley wind farm near Ely — Nevada’s first utility scale wind project. That’s the equivalent of 44 coal-fired plants or 11 nuclear plants, according to a press release. Emissions reductions are great and all, but the best thing about the Spring Valley wind farm is its sensitivity to migratory bats in nearby Great Basin National Park. According to the developer, Mike Garland of Pattern Energy, the company installed sensors that track the bats’ movements. If they’re headed for the wind farm, the turbines shut off, ensuring that no bats are decapitated in the name of energy independence.
* * *
Reid also challenged NV Energy to close the Reid Gardner Generating Station in Moapa. The Sierra Club and the Moapa Band of Paiutes have been protesting the old plant for years, complaining about its emissions and landfills full of filthy coal ash. "It's time to close the dirty relic Reid Gardner," he said. "Let's turn out the lights on Reid Gardner and turn them out forever." Protesters calling for the closure of Reid Gardner had gathered outside the Bellagio on the morning of the summit. There weren't very many of them, but they must have gotten their message across.