News - February 27, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Assemblyman Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, may be a first-year lawmaker, but he has more than 15 years in solar and green energy technology on his resume.

Because of that, he is considered a leading energy expert at the Nevada Legislature.

His marquee bill proposal would require 80 percent of Nevada's power to come from clean and renewable energy sources by 2040.

It seems like a bold proposal, considering the current goal for Nevada's Renewable Energy Portfolio is 25 percent by 2025.

But Brooks, a former executive director of the Valley Electric Association who founded Las Vegas Solar Electric in 2001, is confident Nevada can reach his lofty renewable-energy goal.

"There have been a lot of people who say we can't do this," Brooks said Monday during a taping of Nevada Newsmakers in Carson City. "(They say) it will be too expensive or the technology doesn't exist. But the technology always outpaces our policy considerations and the prices (for green and renewable energy) have come down.

"I am confident that we can reach the 80 percent, which is 50 percent by 2030," Brooks said. "And there are concrete steps in the bill on how to achieve that."

By comparison, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2015 that mandates California have a 50 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2030. In the same year, Hawaii mandated that utilities move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Those states reportedly have the two most aggressive renewable portfolio standards in the nation.

Yet Nevada can become a national leader in renewable and green energy since the state already has an abundance of cheap solar power, wind power and geothermal power, Brooks said. Plus, the Tesla gigafactory -- east of Sparks in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex -- will soon be manufacturing batteries to help store power from those renewable energy sources.

On top of that, Nevada has North America's only commercial lithium mining operation -- in Clayton Valley near Tonopah. And lithium is a key ingredient in battery-storage technology, Brooks said.

"Those (solar, wind, geothermal) are important pieces of the puzzle and it is a puzzle, the way energy markets work," Brooks said. "And we have storage. You mentioned the Tesla gigafactory. And we have lithium, which is the primary ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries. We have an abundance of cheap and available solar power."

Brooks called geothermal power a "baseload" asset because it is available all the time.

Yet Nevada also has renewable energy projects that are unique, Brooks said.

"We have things in the state that a lot of people don't know about," Brooks said, "like landfill gas projects, where we are tapping landfills, taking the methane, running it through generators and making electricity."

Let's not forget Nevada's potential for electric cars. Batteries at the gigafactory will help power Tesla's electrical vehicles. There's hope among some lawmakers that the proposed Faraday Future electric car plant in North Las Vegas will eventually became a reality, despite financial setbacks that have stopped construction.

"Renewable energy, long term, seems to be the cheapest form of energy, not just the cleanest form of energy," Brooks said. "Energy storage is something that is very important to making these large portfolio-standard mandates possible. And then there are electric vehicles. We obviously import all of our transportation fuel, except for electric vehicles, and electric vehicles have the ability to shape our load in such as way that we can achieve things like an 80 percent renewable-energy mandate by 2040."

Renewable energy will create new jobs that go beyond the construction jobs necessary to build renewable energy plants, Brooks said. However, once a solar plant is built, it requires few employees to run it.

"It is not not the largest employer, running the plant themselves," Brooks said. "But what happens is we kind of turned ourselves into a hub in the Southwest for solar. And so what the Governor's Work Force Development board just came up with in the job sector is that the clean-energy sector has a 3.1 multiplier on jobs. So of all the jobs we are creating now, the clean-energy sector jobs have the largest multiplier because there is the supply chain, the engineering, the financial and legal industries that support that, as well as the construction jobs."