On the horizon

National Clean Energy Summit

“Scientists say this is genesis<b>—the beginning,” said Harry Reid about global warming in his opening speech at the summit.</b>

“Scientists say this is genesis—the beginning,” said Harry Reid about global warming in his opening speech at the summit.

Tapping into the West’s natural energy sources—Nevada, especially—was the focus of this year’s National Clean Energy Summit, hosted on August 7 in Las Vegas.

The fifth annual summit, headed by Sen. Harry Reid, used social networking for weeks leading up to the event, including a virtual town hall hosted on Twitter (“Tweeting Reid,” Aug. 2), to get the public to participate in conversations about clean energy. Reid opened the summit with a speech about the importance of addressing climate change.

“Scientists say this is genesis—the beginning,” Reid said. “The more extreme climate change gets, the more extreme the weather will get. In the words of one respected climate scientist, ‘This is what global warming looks like.’ … The seriousness of this problem is not lost on your average American. A large majority of people finally believe climate change is real, and that it is the cause of extreme weather. Yet despite having overwhelming evidence and public opinion on our side, deniers still exist, fueled and funded by dirty energy profits. Those people aren’t just on the other side of the debate. They’re on the other side of reality.”

Attendees included former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who delivered the keynote address. In his keynote speech, Clinton touched on the success of green efforts—primarily solar—in countries like Germany and China.

Also in attendance were energy business leaders such as Tesla Motors cofounder Elon Musk, Revenge of the Electric Car director Chris Paine, and secretary of the interior Ken Salazar, among several others. The summit also presented the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ solar decathlon. Bellagio, the hotel hosting the summit, participated with a presentation on sustainable lunch foods.

Musk, Paine and representatives discussed options for reducing dependence on oil. Despite the positive response the Tesla Model S, released in June, has received from electric car advocates, Musk addressed the challenges Tesla will face during the last half of the year—balancing production with cash flow. Musk also talked about another new project—SolarCity, a collaboration with Walmart, in which solar panels and batteries will be installed in Walmart stores. The project is in early stages and is expected to begin in 2013.

Money was also on the agenda for the summit, with several panels dealing with consumers and job creation. One panel, moderated by Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce member Kristin McMillan, facilitated talk about offering energy consumers different renewable energy options.

But wind energy stole the show, with several new energy projects announced for Western states, including Nevada’s first wind farm in Spring Valley (see Greenspace for more information). Other projects include a 140 megawatt set-up in Kern County, Calif., a 57.6 megawatt farm in Idaho, and a 21 megawatt farm in Hawaii. According to an announcement made at the summit, wind energy production in the U.S. has reached 50 gigawatts—enough to power 13 million homes. In 2008, the U.S. was producing 25 gigawatts of wind energy.

In the end, though, much of the summit came down to politics needed to implement proposed changes to the U.S.’s approach to green energy. Salazar announced that the Senate Finance Committee had agreed to extend the tax cut for wind energy production, a measure which, according to Reid, is likely to pass later this year.