Time to Shine

The Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Conference and Exhibition comes to Las Vegas on June 27-28, bringing with it the trade’s top developers, suppliers and manufacturers. It also brings some important lessons for Nevada’s policymakers. Though geared toward the private sector (for networking, marketing and education), the conference should be an inspiration—and an education—for civic leaders and state legislators. After all, their decisions shape the development of the still-nascent solar industry.

On the conference’s first day, industry leaders will discuss success stories and solutions needed to further solar energy development. On the second day, attendees will learn about how to develop a project, from land assembly to supply chains. These lessons, if applied correctly, could jump-start the state’s solar industry.

Just a few years ago, Nevada was billed as “the Saudi Arabia of solar energy,” but so far the focus has been on major utility projects rather than developing effective incentives for businesses and homeowners to switch to solar. If the state is to be an industry leader, the transition must start at home—existing buildings need to be retrofitted to harness the sun’s power, and new buildings should be built solar-ready. But solar arrays remain expensive; without rebates, an array for a 2,000-square-foot home could cost more than $70,000. Incentives—from tax credits to rebate programs such as NV Energy’s limited, lottery-based Solar Generations—should not be a permanent crutch, but they are an invaluable launching pad, allowing the industry to develop an economy of scale and the low prices that come with it. The question is whether, amid today’s belt-tightening frenzy, policymakers will understand that over the long haul these incentives are a winning bet.

Putting our residential and small-business solar struggles aside, we can be proud that Nevada has five PV (photovoltaic) utility-scale projects operating and a baker’s dozen in development. Primm is home to the Enbridge Silver State North Solar Park, the first large-scale solar field built on public land—a milestone for the industry. Considering that four-fifths of Nevada consists of public land, a successful solar park could spark future projects.

With solar conferences and federal programs such as the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, policymakers have ample opportunities to learn what’s working in other parts of the country and apply those strategies here. Progress has been slowed by political and business interests—some have continued allegiances to fossil fuels; others are wary of public investment, particularly in the wake of the Solyndra loan debacle. But no new technology—least of all one dependent on large initial capital infusions—gets off the ground without some crash landings. The payoff, if we can tolerate the initial stumbles, is a clean, inexpensive and permanently renewable resource—and a dominant industry position for our state.