August 30, 2011
Competition brewing among states over renewable energy exports
If Nevada wants to be the global “epicenter of renewable energy,” as Gov. Brian Sandoval put it on Tuesday, it’s going to have some competition with its neighbors.
While Sandoval, California Gov. Jerry Brown, and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke at Tuesday’s National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas about cooperative ventures to improve energy efficiency production and supply, it’s clear no state’s leader wants to appear too dependent on the others.
“How much we import has to be balanced with how much we’re building locally…Hopefully we can be an exporter,” Brown said. “We’re going to try to build as much indigenously as we can.”
Gregoire said she wants Washington to be a producer, as well.
“I don’t think we can sit in isolation and say we’re not going to allow ourselves to import renewable energy from other states,” Gregoire said. “But I don’t want to disincentivize my state from stepping up to its potential to be one of the leaders in renewable energy itself.”
That’s a bit of a challenge to Nevada, which has long regarded its growing renewable energy sector as the state’s best chance to become an energy exporter, and Nevada has long seen California as its largest potential export market.
California has to meet the country’s most ambitious benchmarks for green energy: the state has set itself a goal of having 33 percent of all energy it uses come from renewables by 2020, including wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels.
Nevada’s goal is to be 25 percent renewable-dependent by 2025.
But Sandoval stressed Nevada is closer to its goal and better poised to start helping its neighbors.
“We’re doing that right now: we’re identifying those renewable energy zones; we’re establishing those transmission corridors that’ll give more certainty to those looking to invest,” he said. “I’m very confident it’s going to work out.”
But Sandoval’s not been gunning ahead with Nevada’s potential export capacity at all costs. At the end of the legislative session, he vetoed a bill that would have unleashed NV Energy’s ability to build a high-speed power transmission line between Nevada and California that, eventually, would enable exports.
But it would have paid for that $1 billion project by taxing ratepayers, written counties out of the approval process for certain projects and given an unprecedented degree of confidentiality to all agreements to expand energy holdings through the use of solar.
Sandoval hasn’t yet unleashed an alternate plan to enable energy exports, though he said Tuesday that “we are going to have a plan in the very near future.”
Transport is key, and there, Nevada has a bit of a leg up over its neighbors, because of the cooperation it has with the Bureau of Land Management.
“We have, I believe, a unique relationship where all the interested parties have a direct voice with the BLM, and I believe it’s been very fruitful for us,” Sandoval said.
But as prices become cheaper, Nevada could start to lose its edge.
Nevada has geothermal energy and wind, but the glittering crown of its natural offerings is solar. Key to the state’s domination of the Western markets are the large-scale solar plants that have, thus far, depended on government loan guarantees to underwrite private investment, and those may disappear at the end of the fiscal year.
At the same time, the cost of photovoltaics — the cells that make up solar panels — has been dropping, and other states say that’s where they plan to pick up the pace on a smaller but widespread scale.
“With the photovoltaic prices coming down, there is a real rush to put up photovoltaic devices…so we’re going to generate a lot of energy,” Brown said.
Brown also reserved a subtle side-punch later that appeared directed toward Sandoval’s boosterism of Nevada’s transmission corridors, saying: “No one likes to live under a transmission line…and no governor wants to see a sticker shock for the voters because the bills are going up because we built too many transmission lines.”
But competition, national renewable energy enthusiasts say, might not be such a bad thing — even if federal dollars for large-scale productions are scarce.
“If these renewables work together, we can get higher numbers overall, across the region,” said John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C., that co-sponsored the conference. “With the right kind of planning and the right kind of system, you can get even more renewables into the system than if you take it down to the micro level. So they can work together, I think.”
Sen. Harry Reid, meanwhile, said, “We’re happy to be in competition with others.”
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