Renewable energy experts: Room for progress |

Renewable energy experts: Room for progress

John Barrette
Dr. Alan Gertler, vice-president for research at the Desert Research Institute speaks on renewable energy at the Sierra Nevada Forums event on Tuesday.
Jim Grant / | Nevada Appeal

Price differentials and storage issues keep Nevada from being a 100 percent renewable-energy state, Public Utilities Commissioner David Noble said Tuesday night.

The audience at Sierra Nevada Forums’ latest event, “Fueling Change: An Emerging Renewable Energy Era,” heard talk of the state being at 18 percent in its drive toward a 25 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2025. After that, the first question involved what keeps the state from being fully renewable.

The event was at the Plaza Hotel Conference Center, and Noble’s answer came after a brief presentation in which he said one price differential was due to low natural gas costs that now hurt both coal and renewables. But he was optimistic that would change some.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case going forward,” he said, noting natural gas costs should rise over time. One reason, he said, is that liquid natural gas developments will make it a world commodity. “We’re going to see upward pressure on natural gas.”

The panelists and moderator Anne Macquarie, who contributes occasional columns to the Nevada Appeal, sounded upbeat about renewable energy’s future in the Silver State.

“I think that renewable energy is the great untold story in Nevada,” said Macquarie, who also is the Carson City-based blog editor for Nevadans for Clean Affordable Reliable Energy (NCARE). “The economic potential to the state is only beginning to be realized.”

Alan Gerstler, Desert Research Institute vice president and director of DRI’s Clean Technologies and Renewable Energy Center, said geothermal is competitive and has numerous pluses, while solar and wind are intermittent energy sources.

He showed a slide saying renewables are “closing in on cost parity” with fossil fuels. He also made the point that environmental, health care and other cost factors aren’t always included in comparative assessments.

Jack McGinley, NV Energy director of regulatory and legislative strategy, pointed out data showing the cost differential despite renewables coming down from prior years. He also said NVE likes geothermal, praising reliability because it is a “baseline resource.” Wind, he said, is more of a challenge to harvest in Nevada than solar.

Paul Thomsen, Ormat’s director of policy and business development and a recent Sandoval administration appointee as the director of Nevada’s Office of Energy, described his geothermal energy company’s contribution to the state’s renewable portfolio. He cited a $1.5 billion total investment.

But Thomsen said geothermal is still a small part of the energy sector, comparing it with much larger oil and gas companies and saying there is considerable growth still in front of Ormat and other firms in his field.

Also on the panel was Marnee Benson, deputy director of Black Rock Solar, who described her nonprofit’s effort to distribute solar power. She voiced concerns about reducing incentives too quickly, which “could put solar out of reach for many Nevadans.”