The canary in the coal mine
October 16, 2018
"Nevada is the Saudi Arabia of solar energy in the United States, and Arizona is number two." Tom Steyer, NextGen Climate Action
On Nov. 6, Nevadans will vote on Question 6, the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative. This is not the same as Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative, which would deregulate energy providers in Nevada and force NV Energy to sell its power plants. Question 6 concerns how electricity itself will be generated.
"Question 6 would increase the state's renewable portfolio standards (RPS). An RPS is a mandate that electric utilities acquire a minimum amount of electricity from renewable energy sources. As of 2018, Nevada's RPS is 25 percent by 2025. Question 6 would increase the RPS to 50 percent by 2030. The initiative would define renewable energy to include sources such as solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric." (Ballotpedia)
Fifty percent may seem like a lot, but Nevada is already almost halfway there.
"In 2016, 21.78 percent of Nevada's electrical power was derived from renewable resources, including 8.43 percent from geothermal and 7.85 from solar sources — an increase from 10.10 percent in 2007." (U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Detailed State Data," 11/9/17)
By the end of 2017, the percent of energy from solar had increased to 10.85 percent. Nevada receives the largest amount of direct sunlight of any state in America. Wind and hydroelectric are more resources we can tap into. Nevada already gets 25 percent of the electricity produced by Hoover Dam.
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Here in Churchill County, we also have geothermal. "A wealth of geothermal resources and ready power transmission lines makes Churchill County one of the state's hottest areas for geothermal power development — and provides a financial windfall to the county as well." (Tahoe Daily Tribune, 9/29/09).
Currently, Churchill County geothermal plants can produce 152.56 megawatts of electricity. One megawatt can power up to 1,000 homes; 152.56 MW could power over 150,000 homes.
Nevada has solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric resources to produce electricity. Using these resources, we can import a smaller amount of expensive fossil fuels. Clearly, 50 percent total renewable energy in 12 years is an achievable goal.
Besides saving money, why should we care where our electricity comes from? Burning fossil fuels contributes to greenhouse gases, which then cause the oceans to become warmer, resulting in more violent hurricanes, more flooding, hotter summers, more drought and wildfires, and rising sea levels due to melting ice. Contrary to right-wing claims, global warming is a clear and present danger to our world. We're nearing the point of no return.
One clear example of the effects of global warming is Glacier National Park. In 1850, the park had 150 glaciers which had existed for 7,000 years. On Aug. 11, 2018, the park recorded the first 100 degree day in its history. Because of this increased warming, there are now just 26 glaciers, and they will be gone in a few decades. This should scare everyone.
Another example: In May 2016, Candidate Donald Trump spoke in Fresno, Calif. He declared that California had no drought, that the problem was that the state was diverting water to try to protect the Delta smelt, a tiny fish. He didn't realize that the Delta smelt is the climate change equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.
Coal mines used to be extremely dangerous. Miners would take caged canaries into the mines as a test for toxic gases. If a canary got sick or died, the miners would get out. The canary was the alarm system.
The Delta smelt is also an alarm system. The Sacramento River Delta ecology is a very complex, fragile system which needs ample water to flourish. If the fish start dying due to drought, that sets off the alarm. It's not just protecting the fish; it's protecting the whole ecosystem.
If Trump had been in a mine where the canaries were dying, he would have claimed that the canaries were not actually dying, that the talk of dangerous gases was a Chinese hoax to trick the miners into leaving the mine so the Chinese could steal the coal. As ridiculous as that sounds, that's how ridiculous the constant denials of global warming are. We're in trouble, and one of the best moves we can make is reducing our use of fossil fuels.
"Yes" on 6 is a big step in that direction. Other states are increasing their electric output from renewables. Nevada can do that too. We can save money and save the planet. What's not to love?
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.