A work in progress
Hurry up and wait for local green jobs
Local energy experts brought a message of both patience and aggression when it comes to green energy jobs during a recent meeting of Truckee Meadows Tomorrow.
Renewable energy and economic vitality are two of TMT’s 33 quality-of-life indicators, and they merged in a discussion called “The Greening of Our Economy” last week with panelists Chuck Alvey of Economic Development Authority Western Nevada (EDAWN), John Hargrove of NV Energy, and Jason Geddes of the city of Reno.
While clean energy has been hailed as the economy’s second coming, the natives are growing restless as “green jobs” have failed to come with the speed and numbers residents of the most out-of-work state in the nation would like to see. However, these panelists urged patience.
“Community leaders have asked me, ‘Why are you wasting your time with renewable energy?’” said Alvey. “I ask them, ‘Why do you think it’s a waste of time?’ ‘Because there’s no jobs.’” They mention the handful of full-time operators at a clean energy plant. He counters by saying the bigger picture includes the research, development and expertise required to build and operate those plants, and the larger number of jobs those skills represent. He added that 120 people work at the Steamboat geothermal plant, many of whom are lawyers and accountants.
Geddes reminded the audience that it can take five or six years of research, development, permitting and design before a clean energy plant goes online. He said Nevada already has the “intellectual capacity” for those siting and permitting jobs.
“Renewable energy is not that different from mining,” he said. “Everything involved in getting a mining operation [underway] would go into building a renewable energy plant,” he said.
A 2010 Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group report said improved access to federal lands for renewable energy development could increase production by 50 percent over the next 20 years. Thirteen renewable energy “fast track” projects on public lands were identified in 2009 for potential 2010 approval.
All of the panelists spoke of the geothermal industry as one where Nevada stands to gain leverage, given there are a cluster of emerging and existing geothermal companies and plants here. Geddes said that after people from Kenya and Ethiopia bought a geothermal plant from Ormat Technologies—an international geothermal company headquartered in Reno—they came to the Clean Energy Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Redfield campus for training.
“Ormat, when they build a power plant in the world, they bring that operational staff here for training in that plant,” said Geddes. “We’re exporting intellectual capacity.”
As for aggression, Hargrove said Nevada, with its Renewable Energy Portfolio standard of 25 percent clean energy by 2025, has some aggressive policies, but there’s more to be done. He encouraged the support of stable public policy around renewables.
Alvey said entrepreneurs need to get aggressive, too, given that local economies rely more on small, local businesses than large, out-of-state businesses moving here. “It’s about starting our own [businesses] or taking the ones here that are small, and growing them to become bigger.”