Reid between the lines
The Nevada senator talks about food and renewable energy
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada nibbled a piece of chocolate mint grown from the waters of Nevada Naturals, which operates a hydroponic greenhouse at the University of Nevada, Reno last week. It was one stop on a tour of renewable energy and agriculture projects underway at the university’s new greenhouse complex off Valley Road. Earlier, he admired grapevines growing inside another greenhouse, research to produce a domestic supply of natural rubber, bubbling pools of algae and a gasifier that turns the algae and other forms of biomass into energy.
Then he sat down for an exclusive interview with Reno News & Review to discuss his thoughts on the future of energy and agriculture in Nevada.
Reid agrees with many renewable energy leaders that the lack of a transmission line—and a smart grid system—is perhaps the biggest obstacle to producing and distributing renewable energy both in Nevada and nationwide.
“We can produce lots of renewable energy all over the country, but where the renewable energy is produced, people don’t live there,” he said. “We have to take that energy to the people.”
And one of the impediments to that is a lethargic permitting process to get transmission lines and renewable energy projects built on public lands. He said he’s introduced legislation that calls for an “adequate time”—which he determines as being about a year and a half—for public agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, to review and plan for the projects. Beyond that point, the federal government could step in using eminent domain or condemnation.
“Renewable energy will never be a success until we take it where it’s needed,” said Reid. In addition to lack of transmission lines, he said, “the hindrances are making sure the state agencies have adequate resources and manpower to do the permit process.”
When asked how to best balance renewable energy development in the state with protecting wildlife habitat, Reid said, “I think we’re going to do a better job of protecting the environment by having renewable projects. Coal and fossil fuel are destroying the environment.” He referenced a large solar energy project north of Las Vegas saying it is “big, but there’s no smoke coming out of it. It’s not a problem at all.” Still, conservation groups are currently working to develop maps suggesting places for development that would be least likely to disturb ecologically sensitive lands.
Reid perked up when the subject came to local food production.
“These greenhouses are a perfect example of that,” he said. He was impressed by Nevada Naturals’ ability to grow thousands of pounds of produce in a greenhouse that cost $10,000 to build—a cost quickly redeemed in a season’s growth. Even more impressive, their hydroponic methods—despite being grown in water—actually use less water than most produce grown in soil. One roughly 4-feet-by-6-feet section of plants required only one gallon of water every 10 days. He added, “I was looking at these grapes in the greenhouse. Alfalfa takes 14 times more water than grapes.”
Be it energy or food, the state appears to be in a time of transition. To produce them, Reid said, “I just think people have to get modern.