Nevada is making steady progress toward becoming a national leader in solar and geothermal energy, state lawmakers were told Thursday.
Representatives of several leading alternative energy companies, as well as University of Nevada, Reno researchers, told the Senate Commerce and Labor committee that those renewable energy sources are becoming more popular and economical.
Gary Wayne, vice president of the Berkeley, Calif.-based PowerLight solar company, presented a graph showing how growth in solar power generation has led to a major drop in production costs. Wayne estimated that within five years, solar power will cost less to produce than conventional energy.
"There are two losers in this power shift - the oil companies and the domestic car producers," said Wayne.
Wayne described his company's solar projects in Nevada, including panels that cover Las Vegas' Ronzone Reservoir. In April, the company will start building a solar array covering 140 acres at Nellis Air Force Base.
He also was enthusiastic about Nevada's ability to take center stage in the development of electric cars. Wayne described plans to develop a national solar-electric vehicle test center at Nellis, saying there was strong support from the military.
Wayne outlined an effort to develop "plug-in hybrids" that could get more than 100 miles per gallon, and drive up to 30 miles on electricity alone. The plan would bring together PowerLight, Nevada Power Company, UNLV, the Department of Defense and Tesla Motors, a California-based electric car company.
Paul Thomsen, a lobbyist for geothermal company Ormat, told lawmakers the best thing they can do to encourage green energy in the state is to protect the Renewable Portfolio Standard. That law, which requires Nevada power companies to get 20 percent of their energy from renewables and efficiency improvements by 2015, opened a space in the market for companies like Ormat, said Thomsen.
Ormat currently operates nine power plants around the state, with four more under construction. More than one third of the company's 280 employees work in Nevada.
Donald Points, vice president of Acciona solar power, told the committee about the company's plans to begin operation of the world's third largest solar facility near Boulder City at the end of April.
That plant, dubbed Nevada Solar One, will use a technology that collects extra heat by putting it into molten salts, and drawing on that energy at night. The plant will produce 64 megawatts of power. One megawatt is estimated to power about 650 homes for a year.
"The resource is sitting there every day," said Points. "The sun continues to shine. All we have to do is put it to use."
Commerce and Labor Chairman Sen. Randolph Townsend, who organized the panel, was enthusiastic about the state's potential for taking the lead in renewable energy.
"If we can't turn southern Nevada into the world leader on solar, shame on us," he said.