Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Look to the Sun.

This is where President Obama is going today.

Boulder City’s Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility is the first of four energy backdrops Obama’s selected to highlight his administration’s multifaceted approach to energy development as he moves across the country. It is also the only solar facility on the short list, which includes tours of oil- and gas-drilling rigs in New Mexico, research and development facilities in Ohio, and a pipe storage yard in Oklahoma — where Obama plans to announce the construction of an oil pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico.

There are no similar project or policy announcements scheduled for the president’s turn through Boulder City; for Obama, the Nevada leg of the trip is about highlighting and defending a longstanding renewable energy policy he believes has been productive.

Copper Mountain Solar 1 is no ordinary photovoltaic power plant, even for Nevada, which ranks third in the nation for utility-scale solar projects. The nation’s biggest solar energy generator (the plant has a 58 MW production capacity), which was financed in part with $40 million worth of federal investment tax credits — “part of a set of tax incentives supported by the Obama administration that are helping move private investors off the sidelines,” the White House notes — was recognized by various industry rankings as the No. 1 plant in the nation following its completion in 2010.

The plant has also been roundly praised by Nevada political officials of all party stripes: Last year, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said Copper Mountain “exemplifies my goal of making Nevada the renewable energy capital of the country.”

This is a massive facility. It can generate up to 58 megawatts of clean power. It's already helping Boulder City in filling up city coffers. Oh, and this is largely thanks to investment in promoting renewable energy as a smart climate solution.

This all began next door, when California enacted AB 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act, in 2006. Because AB 32 requires power companies to receive more electric power from renewable sources, they've been investing more in renewable energy. In fact, San Diego based Sempra Energy and San Francisco based PG&E invested in the Copper Mountain facility to comply with AB 32, send more power to the Bay Area, and ultimately make money in doing that.

And we're supposed to believe that investing in green technology is bad?

Of course, the other force behind Copper Mountain was President Obama's plan to use the Recovery Act to kick-start investment in green energy. And already, this effort is paying dividends.

The U.S. solar power industry is one of the great success stories of President Barack Obama and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s Recovery Act focus on the clean-energy economy. Following the kickstart of funding from the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, U.S. solar developers are now “luring cash at record rates from investors ranging from Warren Buffett to Google Inc. and KKR & Co. by offering returns on projects four times those available for Treasury securities,” Bloomberg reports. “Once so risky that only government backing could draw private capital, solar projects now are making returns of about 15 percent, according to Stanford University’s center for energy policy and finance”:

“After tax, you’re looking at returns in the 10 percent to 15 percent range” for solar projects, said Dan Reicher, executive director of Stanford University’s center for energy policy and finance in California. “The beauty of solar is once you make the capital investment, you’ve got free fuel and very low operating costs.”

“A solar power project with a long-term sales agreement could be viewed as a machine that generates revenue,” Marty Klepper, an attorney at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, which helped arrange a solar deal for Buffett, told Bloomberg. “It’s an attractive investment for any firm, not just those in energy.”

Copper Mountain was partly financed by $40 million worth of federal tax credits offered to support development of renewable energy projects. And so far, it looks like even a number of REPUBLICANS, such as Governor Brian Sandoval and members of the Boulder City Council, are happy with the results of this investment. And Senator Harry Reid doesn't sound so "crazy", after all. He released this report last week detailing the economic benefits Nevada will reap from investing in renewable energy. And so far, the success at Copper Mountain is proving Harry Reid right.

That progress is evident in every corner of our state, from Primm to Tonopah and from Ely to Boulder City, where the construction of wind and solar projects are underway, and energy efficiency projects are saving consumers and taxpayer money. Taken together, these projects and others underway will contribute more than $1 billion in financial benefits and more than 2,200 jobs to Nevada.

These successes did not happen overnight and they did not happen by accident. If Nevada is serious about continuing to compete in the growing clean energy sector, then our state must play to win. This starts with having a coherent strategy to attract new industries, to forge regional and national alliances, to create markets for our products and renewable power, and to develop our human resources and capacity for innovation.

The opponents of renewable energy will continue trying to derail Nevada’s and the nation’s efforts to build a cleaner and safer energy future. Therefore, I encourage every Nevadan to visit to examine how a number of important federal and state actions have helped Nevada start to real­ize its clean energy potential. You will also find ideas there on how to make sure that future actions to grow Nevada’s clean energy economy are as effective as possible and promote rapid investment in Nevada.

Despite the improving economy, the recent economic hardships should remind us that we must do more to broaden Nevada’s economy so that we are better positioned to grow and succeed in the coming decades. Nevada’s work to take advantage of its renewable energy resources does not come without risk, but we cannot turn away from clean energy and miss our opportunity to strengthen Nevada’s future with a victory in clean energy.

Investors are now rushing to bet on renewable energy. The global solar market continues to grow, and America is finally catching up with the other big world players in renewable energy. Progress is being made, so why would we want to roll the clock back?

Sadly enough, that's what the G-O-TEA wants. Reality TV staple Donald Trump thinks "windmills are disgusting". "Tea Party" high priest of "austerity" Paul Ryan wants to slash investment in green jobs and the green economy while handing out more taxpayer funded bailouts to the fossil fuel industry. And Mitt Romney continues to flip-flop on climate change and green energy as he now wants us to "Drill, Baby, Drill!!!" to a dirty future of climate denial and increased economic hardship.

This is why I asked last Friday where Dean Heller really stands on climate change and renewable energy investment. Does he with President Obama and the strong majority of Nevadans across the political spectrum who want to see more investment, more projects like Copper Mountain Solar in Boulder City, and a sounder Nevada economy? Or will he stick with his G-O-TEA buddies in Washington who want to continue sticking their heads in the sand and deny the obvious?

Both Heller and Joe Heck are supposed to represent Boulder City. Will they support further investment in photovoltaic power plants there? Boulder City seems to like what's happening. Or will they continue to vote to subsidize the fossil fuel industry while shirking their responsibility to truly represent Nevada's working families and fight for more green collar jobs here in Nevada?

If we want a brighter future, all we have to do is look to the sun. It should really be that simple.

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