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Five questions for the upcoming National Clean Energy Summit

<p>THINKSTOCK</p>

THINKSTOCK

HARRY REID AND JOHN PODESTA, of the Center for American Progress, roll back into town Tuesday for the fifth edition of the National Clean Energy Summit, an annual confab of tree-huggers, politicos and entrepreneurs. Things have changed since the first summit in 2008, when Reid said Nevada had the potential to become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. This year Saudi Arabia announced a plan to spend up to $100 billion to develop solar energy. Meanwhile, the U.S. government guaranteed just $3 billion in loans to develop renewables in Nevada. That’s a problem — one of several we’d like to see addressed at this year’s conference.

1. WHEN WILL CONGRESS ATTEMPT ANOTHER CLIMATE BILL?

A federal cap-and-trade or renewable-energy standard could encourage the country to turn toward greener energy sources. But the Climate Bill died in 2010. With Tea Party Republicans, including several climate change deniers, running the House of Representatives, climate legislation doesn’t stand a chance. Europe, China and even the Middle East are outpacing the U.S. in green energy investment. If federal legislation is off the table, are there local options for stimulating green energy investment?

2. WHERE ARE THE ENERGY EFFICIENCY ARMIES?

In 2009, the summit focused on green jobs and the environmental and economic potential of investments in energy efficiency. Several speakers proposed programs that would take unemployed construction workers and put them to work increasing the efficiency of valley homes and buildings. NV Energy’s retrofit program quickly sold out for 2012. The service has helped hundreds of businesses, but that’s not enough. Without more resources, energy efficiency projects won’t make a dent in our stubbornly high unemployment.

3. WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED FROM SOLYNDRA AND AMONIX?

The federal government needs to commit to renewable energy, but the failures of Solyndra and the local company Amonix have made us pretty gun-shy. Americans have little appetite for expensive technological failures. Can we reform loan guarantee programs, or will the public have to tolerate a certain number of blunders on the road to energy independence?

4. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET SOME REALLY INNOVATIVE CLEAN ENERGY STARTUPS IN LAS VEGAS?

Clean energy doesn’t just mean solar, wind and geothermal. In 2009, former president Bill Clinton displayed a brick of cooking fuel created from recycled paper. It has been used in Haiti to replace nonrenewable sources like wood. We’ve got a handful of companies that are experimenting with recycled products. We need more, and an entrepreneurial class that’s interested in things other than photovoltaic panels.

5. WHEN CAN WE START EXPORTING OUR SOLAR TO OTHER STATES?

Nevada has developed quite a bit of solar energy in the last four years. But solar plants in Nevada can’t break into the California market. Since Nevada has already met its 15 percent standard for renewable energy, there’s not much incentive for new solar construction. How can we become the big regional, or national, player?