Energy guy

Jack Rafuse is a former White House energy advisor and 25-year UNOCAL executive who now has an energy consultancy in Alexandria, Va.

We’re only a few weeks away from the Nevada presidential caucuses, but Yucca Mountain is not much of an issue.

In some ways it’s surprising, except that, you know, the GAO has come out with a bunch of new recommendations and considerations on it within the last day or maybe even two. [On Oct. 17, the Government Accountability Office released a list of 30 alternative uses for Yucca Mountain.] I think it’s off the radar because the White House wants it off the radar, and they don’t want to have to take a position on something. …

But it’s the Republican caucuses that are important in Nevada this year, and if those candidates don’t raise the Yucca issue, it’s not going to get raised.

I think that’s probably right, actually, and I think—given its history—that probably a lot of them would prefer to have it that way. I’m afraid to say, but I think that this is one of the problems we have with political leadership in the country lately. They’re afraid to stand up and say something that might be unpopular, and that would be unpopular in the state. I don’t think it really is any place else. I don’t think most people think about it any place else.

States that have nuclear power plants cut a lot more ice than Nevada. So what would be the motivation for Republican candidates to stay away from the issue?

Well, that’s a good point, and it seems to me that several years ago Washington state said, “We’ll take it,” but I think that it didn’t come down to that when it came to a vote in Congress. I don’t know. I think you are right; it could be more of a selling point elsewhere. …

Nevada, Utah, Arizona are places where they’re hoping solar and geothermal are going to be important. How quickly do you get an industry going?

Well, the United States has had a pretty significant geothermal industry for, I don’t know—50, 60 years, I guess. … I would think Nevada would probably be able to do it pretty well. California has given various tax breaks and subsidies to some solar projects and, as I say, there are a couple of very, very large ones being put in there. And so if you have desert-type area, if you have plenty of sun and not a lot of human development right around it but within a fairly good range so you can wire it to markets, I think Nevada would be a very good place for projects.

How important are incentives?

Well, in some ways, they’re the only things that make some of these projects stand. All these offshore wind farms that people talk about are terrific investments, they’re horrible energy things, and so they are existing only because of subsidies. Now a lot of other subsidies can be done more wisely and I think some of the solar ones—in places that have the area where they could use it—you could probably give somebody a five- or six-year tax break or something along those lines and not have to have it go on forever. And you would be able to attract investors, too, I believe.

How important is a higher education infrastructure?

It’s really very important, and it’s the kind of thing that a lot of companies have been talking about for a long time. And interestingly, I think, it’s not only companies like the ones that are developing new computer systems or anything like that, but the oil and gas industry has for years been saying we really need a lot more engineers and geophysicists and people like that because, for one thing, even in an established industry like oil and gas, the population of professionals gets older and older. … But it’s very, very important.