Senate Democrats

Reid Hosts National Clean Energy Summit

Gathering helps set energy course for next President and Congress

Las Vegas, NV—Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid made the following statement today as he joined the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in hosting The National Clean Energy Summit.  Industry leaders, scientists and policy experts united at the summit to define an agenda that accelerates the development of renewable energy, energy-efficiency technologies and robust clean energy markets throughout the nation and world.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Thirty-six years ago, as Lt. Governor of Nevada, I was asked by the Governor to represent our state on a trip to Washington.  There I met with Vice-President Ford and the first Energy Secretary, Bill Simon, to discuss the growing energy crisis – the first such crisis America had faced – with the possible exception of World War II.  I remember lines at the gas pump for miles in Nevada, Washington, D.C., and all across America, and the sense of panic that by winter, there might not be enough fuel to meet our country’s needs.

“This generation of prosperity had put millions of Americans in new homes – and millions of new cars on our roads.  Just as this boom created a record new demand for energy, demagogues in the Middle East cut the oil supply to America.  Governors all over our country initiated conservation efforts.  For example, in Nevada, Governor O’Callaghan ordered thermostats in state buildings set to 65 degrees that winter.  He then completely shut off the heat in the Governor’s mansion – and awoke one morning to find his daughter’s goldfish frozen solid in its bowl.

“President Richard Nixon also called for greater efficiency standards at the federal level and for exploration of energy using the best options they had at the time – extracting oil from shale and tar sands and developing cleaner coal technology.  The President set an ambitious goal of total energy independence by 1980.  This should have been an opportunity to change the way we acquire and use energy.

“But when the same demagogues in the Middle East who created the supply shortage decided to increase supply once again, all the initiatives to use less and produce more energy were abandoned.  Now, 36 years later, we again face a crisis: an oil crisis, a carbon crisis and a conservation crisis.

“The vehicles we drive have gotten bigger, heavier and less efficient.  Our homes have gotten larger and require ever more power to heat and cool.  Our lives have become filled with new technologies that have changed the world for the better but increased the thirst for greater quantities of energy.

“This emergency – far more complex than the one we faced three and a half decades ago – harms our economy, threatens our national security and pollutes to our environment.  Industry and labor, sportsmen and environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans are gathering here in Las Vegas today because we agree that there is a desperate need to solve this crisis.

“We are here today to accept the challenge of creating a clean energy revolution.  And we are ready to put aside political differences to achieve this goal.  Where others have failed, we must succeed – to grow our economy, create jobs, improve our individual health, strengthen our national security and clean our polluted air.  In the process, we will lower the price of gasoline – which has become the face of our energy crisis – lessening the burden on American consumers and businesses large and small.

“The imperative is to end the drain of the American treasury, both public and private, which flow to the hands of volatile governments who control the world’s oil supply.  Ultimately, our vision is to bequeath to our children and our children’s children the livable planet that they deserve.

“If past is prologue – and it is – we know that this clean energy revolution will be complicated.  But that is why we are here: to build upon our dreams and aspirations to change the earth.  We already see early ripples of change in big cities and small towns, on Wall Street, Main Street and across America.  The horizon that we see is the horizon that others have given us.  It is up to us to make this horizon a sun rising, not setting.

“So here in Las Vegas on August 19, 2008, we are gathered – gathered to share what we know, where we are, and what we do next.  At this gathering, we will hear from Governors and Senators, titans of big business, innovators on the cutting edge of technology, and labor leaders, all anxious to secure a better world.  There is no better place for this summit than Nevada – the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.  Plentiful sun, wind and heat from the earth are the hallmarks of Nevada.

“Today in Nevada, there are 57 operating renewable energy projects, producing 400 megawatts of electricity.  This power heats and cools 200,000 homes.  But that is just the beginning.  All across America, solar, wind and geothermal energy have become more viable and affordable than ever. We have enough alternative energy projects planned in Nevada to make our state a net energy exporter in seven years.  Other states can do the same.

“Our host, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is known for its high energy basketball – and in the future it will be known as the leader in clean energy.  This campus is on the cutting edge of research in concentrating solar, renewable hydrogen and zero-emission homes.  And like universities throughout America, UNLV is securing private-sector partnerships to further stretch their research dollars.

“Look to nearby Nellis Air Force Base, and you will find the world’s largest photovoltaic plant, which provides more than 25 percent of the base’s power.  Not only is this power clean and renewable, it also saves taxpayers $1 million a year.  But solar power is not just for big, utility-scale applications.  A recent decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission paves the way for companies to rent solar systems to homeowners and small businesses, which could vastly expand its every day use.

“The first geothermal plant in America was built in Nevada in 1984.  Now we have 14 geothermal plants supplying power to 150,000 homes, with another seven geothermal plants under construction.  We are even turning to garbage.  The Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center is building a new biofuels plant, which will turn 90,000 tons of trash into more than 10 million gallons of ethanol each year.  That’s 10 percent of the total gasoline used by Reno residents – all from garbage.

“Nevada is hardly alone in these exciting projects.  Colorado is one of America’s wind-power leaders.  Utah has six geothermal projects underway that will generate nearly 250 megawatts.  In Iowa, an old Maytag plant was converted into a state-of-the-art factory for wind turbines.  In Pennsylvania, renewable energy has already created 3,000 jobs and sparked one billion dollars in private investment.

“These are all reasons for optimism.  But the energy situation can’t be solved by the private sector, by consumers, and by state and local governments alone.  The federal government must be a lead actor in this energy drama.  Last year, Congress took a first step in the right direction by passing an energy bill that increases fuel efficiency for cars and trucks for the first time in 30 years, as well as requires production of clean, affordable alternative fuels, and also improves efficiency standards for lighting, appliances and new buildings.

“Unfortunately, further work this year has been blocked by those creating a distraction – by insisting that we talk about nothing but coastal drilling.  Faced with record gas prices and angry voters, I understand the urge to think no further than November’s election.  But we must not forget: it is an indisputable fact that opening new land for drilling today will not add a single drop of oil to the marketplace for up to 20 years.

“Even then, it will be a drop in the global bucket.  It will have a negligible affect on prices at best and will do nothing to hasten our transition to renewables.  I am confident that everyone in this room agrees that we must act much more quickly, with more responsible leadership.  I look forward to returning to Washington to work with the 10 senators – five Democrats and five Republicans – who proposed the bipartisan energy plan that includes limited drilling.

“When people in the future look upon the polluted world of 2008, they will see a partnership of two politically differing individuals who came together to show responsible leadership.  Former Vice-President Al Gore, winner of the Nobel Prize, an Emmy and an Oscar, and a legendary American entrepreneur, and loyal Republican T. Boone Pickens.  We all recognize them for their courage and determined leadership.  They and all of us know that the United States accounts for just 4 percent of the world’s population and less than 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves – yet we emit 25 percent of the world’s carbon pollution and consume 25 percent of the world’s oil supply.

“Oil will be one part of our energy puzzle for years to come, as we develop and produce the technologies that will one day render it unnecessary.  Until then, there are steps we can and should take to increase our American supply.  But simple math tells us that we can’t drill our way to energy freedom, and basic science tells us that we can’t continue belching more and more carbon into the sky.  The way we use energy is not sustainable economically or environmentally.

“Congress should pass a long-term extension of tax incentives for private sector entrepreneurs who are standing by, ready to invest billions of dollars in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.  Congress should look to build a national smart grid – a way to transmit electricity – that will reward net energy producers and provide affordable clean energy to regions that need it.  And Congress should set aggressive national standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“All of this will happen if we grasp the enormous economic opportunity this shift to renewables will create.

“For example, if just 20 percent of our nation’s power came from renewables by 2020, we would create hundreds of thousands of direct jobs and save consumers many billions of dollars in lower bills.  Each additional megawatt of geothermal power creates 10 new jobs, while each megawatt of solar-thermal and wind power create at least six new jobs.

“The choice is clear.  If we abandon the opportunities on our horizon and maintain the status quo, three things are certain.  First, the earth’s supply of fossil fuels will continue to dwindle.  Second, the price we pay for electricity and gasoline will continue to rise.  Third, our children and our grandchildren will look back at this moment in history and wonder, ‘With all they knew, why didn’t they do more to leave us with a healthy, prosperous and livable planet?’

“If we choose to embrace this challenge, we can fundamentally change our world – which will benefit every creature and person that inhabits it.

“We are taking the results and recommendations of this energy summit to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  Everyone knows the famous slogan about Las Vegas – ‘What happens here, stays here.’  But for this summit, what happens here must be the exact opposite.  What happens here will be taken to Capitol Hill and every city, county and state in America.

“And when we meet again next year, I have every expectation that we will do so with a president, a Congress and a nation finally ready to fully embrace the great energy opportunities that lie ahead. 

“I mentioned earlier the unlikely pairing of two individuals on opposite sides of the political spectrum – Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens.  I have known Al Gore for more than a quarter of a century.  I have followed T. Boone Pickens for just as long, but have only recently gotten to know him.  No one would have ever imagined the Democratic Majority Leader of the United States Senate and the wealthy Republican entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens being here in Las Vegas singing the same song, the same verse: ‘The day for clean energy has arrived.’  It is my pleasure to introduce T. Boone Pickens.”