Prepare our workforce for clean energy jobs

Department of Interior announed final decision and plan for developing solar energy on public lands. We must educate our workforce to take on these new clean energy jobs.

By Chris Giunchigliani - Las Vegas Sun

While we recover from high unemployment rates, Nevada communities continue to look for new ways to create jobs.

Nevada is home to a strong workforce and also is home to energy resources that could be valuable in rebuilding our economy.

The sun shines brightly in Nevada, making our state a target for large-scale solar energy projects.

Thanks to an Interior Department initiative and the world-class solar energy we’ve been blessed with, our state will play an important role in moving our country toward energy independence while creating jobs in Nevada.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the department’s final decision and plan for developing solar energy on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Nevada is home to 48 million acres of BLM land, which makes the Department of Interior’s plan vital to our ability to attract clean energy businesses to our state.

The crux of the plan guides projects away from sensitive lands into solar energy zones identified as suitable for development.

This approach will attract solar energy projects by offering greater certainty while smoothing the boom and bust cycle for counties such as mine, a win-win-win for counties, energy developers and conservationists.

As a county commissioner, I recognize that we need jobs — we need revenue and we need energy.

As a conservationist and a member of the Wilderness Society, I recognize that we have to be careful about where we build projects that have long-term impacts on big game and the land.

If we plan carefully and are smart from the start, we can avoid much of the conflict we have seen between protecting the environment and traditional energy development of the past.

The final solar energy plan identifies zones on public lands in six Western states. The plan includes five zones in Nevada, more than any other state.

Recognizing circumstances change, it also provides for designating new zones on about 9 million acres through variance applications, which will be evaluated as needed.

By avoiding important places such as key hunting areas, this approach will help ensure Nevada will be a significant part of America’s clean energy future for decades.

As a county commissioner, I will continue to push for smart development in Nevada as the plan is being implemented quickly and responsibly.

I am also working to ensure that royalty revenues created from local projects are returned to our communities and invested in conservation programs to offset some of the impacts of solar development.

Interior’s plan shows that there is room for conservation with energy development. This blueprint for development took several years of hard work and involved broad stakeholder engagement, including opportunities for local communities to participate in public meetings.

The process also allowed industry to have a seat at the table to find solutions that will be good for business, as well.

When you have this kind of consensus building happening, the results are strong and something we can improve upon over the years.

Now Nevada has to do its part. We must remain vigilant in seeing that projects are guided away from lands that are home to wildlife and sensitive water resources and into smart zones.

We must educate and train our workforce to take on these new clean energy jobs. Most importantly, we must recognize that cooperation between counties and agencies is essential and use Interior’s efforts as a model for future planning on other sensitive issues.