Alternative energy is a hot-topic in today’s market. Whether through the creation of more jobs or making energy more efficient and cost effective, alternative energy appears to be Nevada’s future. Executives representing several alternative energy companies recently met at the law offices of Holland & Hart in Reno to discuss the issues facing this booming industry.
Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues pertinent to their organizations. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
How is your organization involved in Alternative Energy?
Mike Skaggs: The major responsibility of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development is to steer the state economy. It is to direct the economy in a way that creates jobs and wealth and attracts capital investment. You can’t make this economy work on gaming, hospitality and mining. It needs a third leg to that stool, and when you build economies it has to be indigenous. What’s indigenous here, is the renewable energy sector. It represents the opportunity of a lifetime as far as the state goes.
Dick Kelsey: I’m the CEO of two companies, Snowpeak Energy and Sun2Power Corporation, and we’re getting ready to manufacture a new product that is going to make renewable energy affordable without government subsidies. We’re very close to doing that. We have partnered with companies locally and we’re getting ready to manufacture here. We’re in the test phase of the project and we think we’re going to do something for this economy that is going to help tremendously.
Dennis Bryan: Western Lithium Corporation is not directly involved in producing power, but we hope to be a source of lithium for the future of batteries and hybrids and electric vehicles in the future. We have done a lot of testing and metallurgical work and economic evaluation and we have one of the largest lithium deposits in the world. We are a domestic source of lithium hopefully to furnish material for the batteries of the future. We’re part of Nevada and we want to build jobs here and be here for quite some time.
Chris Klehm: Energy & Environmental Solutions, E2 as we call ourselves, is a sustainability and green building consultant firm that helps businesses align their business goals with the help and the viability of the plan. We seek sustainable solutions to most business goals. Our area of expertise focuses around green building consulting, corporate sustainability consulting, education and renewable energy development.
Ted Batchman: I’m at the University of Nevada Renewable Energy Center. Obviously being a university facility we’re interested in research, development and training of the work force. We have developed the renewable energy minor that’s open to all disciplines on campus. We’re working to develop a graduate program, a certificate program so that people currently in the work force can come back and get a certificate that says they have some expertise in renewable energy.
Terry Copeland: Altair Nano is a 36-year-old publicly traded company in start-up mode. It’s a long start-up. We’re focused on lithium ion batteries using our unique lithium technology that brings some unique properties to the lithium ion batteries. Our principal market focus is in the utility sector for regulation as well as renewables integration. In transportation, we are looking at applications in mass transit for urban buses.
Jim Groth: I am the new director of the Nevada State Office of Energy. I feel that the energy office is the vehicle that will take pieces of everything and everyone of you and help point A meet point B. A piece of the strategic vision is helping Nevada win, getting us out of our funk economically and really moving us forward. We work to be a force for job creation and for energy economy development in Nevada. Our purpose is to do it rapidly and with intent, an action-minded mind-set rather than being mired down.
Fred Schmidt: Holland and Hart is a law firm with its largest area of practice in natural resources. We have many clients in the energy arena and we have two specific groups that focus primarily on renewable energy. One is project development and finance and the other is our energy and utilities group. The project development and finance group does everything from soup to nuts. In other words, from the beginning of the project development through its financial closing and completing permitting with regulations involving renewable energy projects. We’ve been involved in several megawatts of wind development throughout the western states in the last two years. Our energy group primarily focuses on utility regulation and interaction with utilities. That also involves contracting and purchase power agreements of a renewable project or developer selling its power to the public utility. We represent numerous solar, geothermal, wind and bio-mass firms within Nevada.
What will it take for Nevada to be the nation’s leader in alternative energy?
Klehm: I think our largest hurdle to date is connecting the dots and connecting the people because there are so many interconnections and places this business touches. The potential has become very clear on what this opportunity can be. We have government hurdles we need to overcome, we have large utility hurdles we need to overcome, and we have inter-business disciplines that we need to work with so that we can connect the various businesses together to optimize the process.
Batchman: I agree strongly because there are a lot of good ideas out there. We need to bring it all together so we are working as a team and there’s a common goal. I see this as an opportunity. We also need to find the resources. We need more inroads into DOE because there’s a tremendous number of good ideas around here. If we can work together, we can line up a research industry team, and really do something spectacular.
Schmidt: I think we already are a leader in some areas and the challenge is to build on that. The main thing that’s holding up broad-based geothermal development right now is Sierra Pacific Power is only so large of a utility. It’s got a peak load of maybe 1700 megawatts. When you take the energy that’s produced by geothermal producers and put it into their system, it’s non-dispatchable must-take energy. They can only take so much of that without it becoming a burden on the rate payers and on the utility itself. But there’s a tremendous market out there that’s a lot bigger than Sierra Pacific Power.
Groth: When Americans and Nevadans and ingenuity and innovation get together and have intensity and drive behind it, things happen. And we have the ability.
What is the potential economic impact of alternative energy on our state?
Klehm: It would be huge.
Skaggs: Well, it’s something we’ve never seen before because we’ve never had that kind of independence from an economic standpoint. It’s like the automobile industry was in Detroit in the day. People underestimate how big this is.
Kelsey: Saudi Arabia. I mean that’s what it could be.
Klehm: Well, I prefer Abu Dhabi.
What does the industry offer in terms of employment opportunities?
Skaggs: We’ve got 170,000 people right now that basically have construction skills and are out of work. So UNR, UNLV and the community college system under higher education have responded to the call and already have programs set in place to turn the work force to propel this industry, and that’s a huge piece for when we move into manufacturing. We can talk about tax rebates until we’re blue in the face, but it is skilled talent that’s going to win the war as far as the manufacturing side of it goes.
Copeland: I like where you are coming from because we’ve had that issue. We are right here in Reno trying to find qualified manufacturing personnel. It is difficult when it is filled with former casino employees.
Klehm: With a grant from DETR we are training currently in Las Vegas. We are training unemployed union construction workers in weatherization. DETR gave us a grant to do it, and we put together a very strong curriculum. Every one of these guys want to know if there is a job at the end of the four week program.
Kelsey: We’ve been contracted by various groups, particularly the Indian nations, that really want to be trained as installers. They want to be more than casino workers and are really excited about doing it.
What are the challenges of energy distribution?
Schmidt: Unfortunately, Nevada is known in the transmission circles as the hole in the western doughnut, meaning we don’t have any transmission between Northern and Southern Nevada.
Kelsey: There’s a lot of centralized systems that are being developed, but very few distributed systems that are being done. There’s a big battle we are going to have here. We have NV Energy that wants centralized energy. We’re in the process of developing tools and manufacturing new products that are going to be very disruptive because we’re delivering distributed systems here. That means this building will own its own energy. That means that somewhere down the line they may not be connected to NV Energy here.
Groth: The whole distributed generation concept is what we are trying to promote. I want to move on concurrent fronts and incentivize so that utility shareholders thinks the utility is doing the job and the state is doing the job. Nv Energy can be the king, an innovative leader as far as utilities and how they cracked the code and brought the renewable energy technologies that are released in their Smart Grid to homes.
Kelsey: I’d love to have them (Nv Energy) partnering with us and working with us. But the truth is that they’re looking out for their own bottom line, and they should be.
Bryan: Fred (Schmidt), how long would it take to permit new power lines from Northern Nevada to Southern Nevada?
Schmidt: A big announcement is that we had competing companies trying to build that line. We had competing companies trying to cross through Nevada to access wind from Montana and Wyoming and so forth. The main line we need to build is between central eastern Nevada or central western Nevada and the Harry Allen Station or the Nevada Test Site. We need to connect those two points.
What role does the federal government play in the future of Nevada’s alternative energy industry?
Bryan: Nevada is 79 percent federal lands so the federal government has got to be a partner in this thing. I happen to be on the Commission of Mineral Resources appointed by the governor and we get involved in geothermal a lot. Geothermal and resources like lithium have to have access to public lands. But, it’s not just access. If you have a resource or if you identify an area that you want to put a solar plant on, you’ve got to be able to permit that property in a timely fashion. And permitting is becoming more of an issue all the time.
Schmidt: We have more acreage that has been bid and leased, and most recently the last two leases from BLM auctions that occurred generated over $20 million for state and local as well as federal government. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of acres. I agree that the permitting and the regulation is the thing that can slow or kill any of these projects.
Groth: Nevada is a real tiny little state, really just kind of the occupied territories of BLM west. And, that’s unfair. We have an unfair disadvantage over those competing states and the amount of that federally owned land, especially when you take the number one war fighter training facility that we have right in the middle of that state and the perimeter that they want and need and require around themselves down there.
Rountable Participants – Michael Skaggs, Nevada Commission on
Economic Development • Dick Kelsey, SnowPeak Energy, Sun2Power
Corporation • Ted Batchman, University of Nevada, Reno, Renewable Energy Center • Terry Copeland, Altair Nano • Dennis Bryan, Western Lithium Corp. • Chris Klehm, E2 Energy & Environmental Solutions