Silver State, Green Energy

Why Nevada remains a promised land for the alternative-energy sector


One afternoon in late March, Governor Brian Sandoval and Senator Harry Reid stood in front of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign and unveiled a report declaring Nevada a clean energy economic hub. The sun, bright enough for Reid to wear shades, was being soaked up by 18 photovoltaic panels along the highway median. That evening, the glow of the iconic sign was, for the first time, powered by solar energy.

In the past four years, Nevada, rife with clean-energy opportunities, has seen an investment boom. Those opportunities come from both the sky and the ground beneath our feet: The Silver State ranks third in the country for solar energy per capita and second for geothermal. Since 2010, capital investments total $5.5 billion, and an additional $820 million in employment and property benefits will come to the state as a result of clean-energy enterprises, according to the report, authored by the Clean Energy Project.

Not only has Nevada made strides in solar, wind and geothermal technology, it also energized the 231-mile-long ONline, which connects Southern Nevada with Ely. Much like the railroads of the 1800s that enabled coal to be easily transported across the nation, ONLine will allow local power to be distributed regionally.

The Clean Energy Project attracted investment by awarding partial abatements on sales-and-use and property taxes to renewable-energy producers. The program, the report says, ensures that Nevadans receive the tax income and jobs created by these ventures.

Meanwhile, several major trade associations have chosen Nevada for their annual conferences. The American Wind Energy Association, the National Clean Energy Summit and the Solar Energy Industries Association will all be passing through Las Vegas in the coming months.

As the country grows more aware of Nevada’s clean energy prowess, it’s a good time for a roundup of some of the projects that are generating more than just buzz:

Nevada Solar One 
Completed in 2009 in Boulder City, this is one of Nevada’s largest solar installations, with capacity to power 14,400 homes, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Copper Mountain 2 and 3
With the former completed in 2012 and the latter still in construction, these combined solar plants will generate enough energy for 142,000 homes when completed.

Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project
This utility-scale project is currently in the works in Nye County and will be online this year. With 110 megawatts of solar power, Crescent Dunes will power 75,000 homes.

Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley Wind
This 152-megawatt plant in White Pine County is Nevada’s first utility-scale operation for wind energy. The project’s 66 2.3-megawatt turbines provide NV Energy with electricity under a long-term power purchase agreement.

Searchlight Wind
Acquired by Apex Clean Energy in January and still inching through the permitting process, Seachlight will generate 200 megawatts of electricity with 87 turbines churning away on 160 acres of Clark County land near Harry Reid’s hometown.

With 32 plants, Nevada produces more geothermal energy than any other state except California.

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A group of UNLV students is standing in the front of the class, making a pitch to a Hollywood producer. The producer, Peter Samuelson, is wearing a black shirt and black slacks, and has just flown in from Los Angeles. But these are not film students. Instead, they’re architecture students, and their projects are not only about design, but also community service.