By John Karakoulakis, Reno Gazette Journal, April 29, 2023
In these polarized political times, it’s easy to view the major political parties as total and irreconcilable opposites. If Democrats support one thing, then Republicans must oppose it, and vice versa.
But when you look closer at individual policy issues, it’s never that simple, and that’s a good thing. One of the best examples is energy policy, which is a critically important topic right now in Nevada.
With the election of Governor Joe Lombardo, we now have divided government in Nevada. But that doesn’t mean the expansion of clean energy in our state will grind to a halt, or even slow down. Because there is plenty of room for both parties to work together on smart energy solutions for Nevada.
A great starting point is Gov. Lombardo’s plan to shield Nevadans from sudden spikes in energy demand from neighboring California. These spikes are becoming a bigger problem, because California is retiring more of its own power plants and relying more heavily on imported electricity from states across the West.
Shortly after he was sworn in, the governor called for the construction of new in-state sources of electricity generation to limit California’s influence over the Nevada energy market. On March 27, he provided more detail with a major executive order that seeks “energy independence” for Nevada.
“Nevada’s advancement of energy independence will spur economic development, lead job creation, drive low-cost energy for Nevadans and reduce carbon emissions for future generations of Nevadans,” Gov. Lombardo’s executive order says.
The executive order calls for a “balanced approach” that advances “sustainability and reliability” at the same time, rather than the state government picking winners and losers. The goal should be a “robust, diverse energy portfolio” that includes “solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, natural gas … hydrogen, energy storage, and other resources needed to meet the vast energy demands in the state.”
To be clear: By throwing his weight behind the construction of new power generation in Nevada, Gov. Lombardo is also supporting the construction of new clean energy sources — because they are cheaper than the alternatives.
That is especially true for solar, which has plummeted in cost over the past 10 to 15 years and is now the cheapest source of new electricity generation that utilities can build, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Therefore, a program to build more power generation in Nevada is a program to build more renewable power in Nevada.
But the governor’s executive order goes even further, calling for the development of “transmission and energy infrastructure to ensure that Nevada is a regional leader in exporting its solar, wind and geothermal resources.”
At the same time, Gov. Lombardo wants more transmission infrastructure to import reliable, low-cost, clean energy from other states when it’s needed. Another critical element of the executive order: Policies that “reduce regulations and streamline the permitting process for shorter approval times for energy projects” which are too often caught up in red tape and litigation from activist groups.
The governor’s order is a huge vote of confidence in the state’s future as a major clean energy investment hub — and a promising sign of bipartisan cooperation in this area.
Though, to be honest, this shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider some of the private-sector investments that are already being made in Nevada.
Earlier this year, Tesla announced a $3.6 billion expansion of its operations in Nevada. The expansion will be focused on building electric semi-trucks, which is the next frontier in electrifying the transportation sector.
Days later, General Motors announced a $650 million investment in the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, which will produce lithium for use in electric vehicle batteries. Today, the U.S. produces a tiny fraction of the world’s lithium, and developing a domestic supply chain for lithium and other critical minerals can prevent the kind of disruption we saw with semiconductors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, in early March, the developers of a massive $2.5 billion pumped-hydro energy storage project in eastern Nevada’s White Pine County submitted their final license application to federal regulators in Washington, D.C.
While Republicans and Democrats may have different reasons for supporting investments in clean energy technologies, that hardly matters. What matters is they agree.
Investments in clean energy power generation, clean energy manufacturing, and clean energy supply chains are good for businesses and working families in Nevada. It’s not rocket science, it’s just common sense. And we should all welcome that fact that victories for common sense can also be victories for the environment.
John Karakoulakis is director of The Western Way, a nonprofit that seeks pro-market solutions to environmental challenges.