Northern Nevada developing renewable energy options | NevadaAppeal.com

Northern Nevada developing renewable energy options

Kirk Caraway
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

The people tasked with attracting businesses to Nevada are seeing a surge in interest in renewable energy.

Ron Weisinger, outgoing executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Agency, said Northern Nevada’s future will be one of exporting energy produced by the area’s abundant solar, wind and geothermal resources.

“A third of everything we are working on right now is in renewable energy,” Weisinger said. “I believe that Nevada, over a period of time, has the ability to be an exporter of energy, more so than almost any other state in the union.”

Indeed, former Interior Secretary Gail Norton once proclaimed Northern Nevada has the most potential for renewable energy compared to any other area of the country. Despite trying economic times, forward-thinking companies are lining up to start “green” businesses in the area.

“In the next three years or less, you will see some major solar fields built here in Northern Nevada that can create mucho megawatts of energy,” Weisinger said. “A lot of people feel Southern Nevada has the most potential for solar, because it’s so hot. But if you do your research, you will find out that Northern Nevada does, because of our altitude.”

Weisinger said NNDA has scores of companies planning projects in the energy sector, everything from a combination solar and geothermal project near Wabuska, to an algae-growing operation that uses geothermal energy to heat its growing ponds.

Other companies are working on ideas that collect wasted energy. One of them, Electrotherm, works to capture lost heat from industrial engines and compressors and turn it into usable energy. Weisinger also pointed to another Nevada company that has a process for capturing lost electricity in power transmissions as how technology is helping the state.

Several Nevada companies are also working on making new batteries for electric and hybrid cars, giving them more range and faster charge times. And there is one company that is already looking at setting up charging stations for electric vehicles, Weisinger said.

High-tech solutions can also help solve low-tech problems. Weisinger cited Desert Hills Dairy in Mason Valley near Yerington, the second largest dairy in the state. The dairy wants to double the size of its herd. But expanding operations also presents a messy problem: What to do with the waste.

Enter the bio-digester, which will take the waste and collect methane gas that will be used to create electricity. The electricity can be sold back into the electric grid. The waste is converted to a liquid fertilizer to be sold to other farmers.

“So, you now have a new profit center for your agricultural operation,” Weisinger said. “You increase the herd, you increase milk production. You also have fertilizer which is a profit center. And you have a new profit center from the methane gas.”

While the future looks bright for green businesses, there are hurdles to overcome. For those hoping to generate electricity, the most difficult task is moving that power to market, which may not be easy, according to Weisinger.

“One of the challenges is what do you do with it? How do you get it onto the grid? You need substations, and the ability of the powerlines to accept it,” Weisinger said.

Another has to do with the kind of workers who can be employed in these high-tech firms.

“How do we create those jobs? We have to create the workforce,” Weisinger said. “We have to talk early, not tomorrow but today, about the training.”

Weisinger said NNDA is working on creating public-private partnerships to come up with the training programs for the next generation of workers that will be a major part of Nevada’s future.

“We can create new jobs that don’t even exist today,” Weisinger said. “In 10 years, there will be stuff we never even thought about now, and we’ll be able to take advantage of, and those are the kinds of jobs our kids are going to want to do.”

Weisinger will be leaving NNDA in a few weeks, and will then look at life from the other side, as one of the many entrepreneurs developing renewable energy businesses.

“The technology is constantly evolving,” he said. “The question is, what can we do to promote it and help make it happen? And how do we make sure that government stays out of the way? Let’s make sure the government is the helpful party, not a hindrance.”

Contact reporter Kirk Caraway at kcaraway@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1261.




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