LAS VEGAS — After hearing Vice President Joe Biden speak at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 this week, I’m thinking he is probably a voice in Obama’s ear, urging him to invest money in clean cars, wind turbines and solar arrays. He seemed genuinely impassioned about the need for a renewable energy revolution.

I was also a speaker in a lineup that included a number of Obama administration officials (Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus among them), and governors from Nevada, California and Washington. The host was Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (at right, below), who introduced the event (co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress) at the LEED Gold-certified Aria CityCenter. It looked like any other casino resort, but you don’t see the waste heat co-generation facility, the water conservation efforts, the fresh air circulation or the electric vehicle charging station. The casino isn’t LEED-certified, I was told, only because the Green Building Council turns thumbs down on any facility that allows smoking.

Chu called for a Clean Energy Administration that would be funded with $5 to $10 billion in seed money to make strategic loans, and then become self-sustaining as the interest on those loans were paid back. As he often does, Chu cited turning points in U.S. history where the government took the long view and funded innovation. European air superiority during World War I led to the National Council on Aeronautics. When the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite and started a space race, President Eisenhower responded by beefing up American science education.

“Imagine,” Biden said, “if the U.S. was the first country able to make solar power that is cheaper than coal. Imagine lithium-ion batteries made here that are capable of carrying an electric car 300 miles or more. Imagine being able to capture waste power from factories and vehicles and convert it to electricity. I think we’re going to see stunning breakthroughs.”

The alternative, Biden said, “is spending $300 billion a year on imported oil, and sending the money to nations that don’t like us very much. If we don’t lead in clean energy, we’ll follow. I’d hate to see us replace the importing of foreign oil with the importing of foreign technology.”

The governors, including Jerry Brown on his third time around in California, Christine Gregoire in Washington and newly elected Brian Sandoval in Nevada, were united in their commitment to green energy, but all face budget battles to keep it funded. Brown said that California permitted 5,000 megawatts of wind and solar last year. “The sun is for California what oil is for Texas,” he said, “and we have a lot more solar power than they have oil.”

Brown has a way with a phrase. He said that “the current market fundamentalism is an impediment to a proper balance,” and that Tea Party politicians act as if taxes were a form of sexually transmitted disease.

Sandoval, the only Republican on the panel, said that “renewable energy is a high priority for me and the state of Nevada.” He talked about touring solar and geothermal installations in the state, and said that the state has made a commitment to use 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. He is “very excited” about a $4 to $6 billion plan by China’s ENN Group to make solar film locally, and install a 720-megawatt photovoltaic farm in the Nevada desert.

Gregoire wants to fast-track renewable energy permitting, and pointed out that her state is becoming a center of lightweight carbon fiber production (both BMW and Boeing are using it).

Also on MNN: Karl Burkart's take on the conference boils down to a $7 billion question


Nevada is one of those states that has a lot of green projects going, but you actually have to go there to see them. I had no idea that anybody made electric cars there, but on the show floor, I encountered Neil Roth, CEO of XtremeGreen Products, who makes a bunch of low-speed electrics for consumers, police, farming, mining and construction uses.

Roth was behind the wheel of a sturdily built Transport Pro UTV that can reach about 38 mph and go 75 to 80 miles on a charge. It costs $14,000, and much less if the $7,500 federal tax credit applies to vehicles that can’t go on the highway. Despite the limitations, the Transport Pro would be ideal for police parking patrols, park cleanup duty and university maintenance. Here it is on video:

I asked Roth, as he was pulling out in his Transport Pro, why Nevada? “I’ve lived here for 18 years, it’s an inexpensive place to do business,” he said. “And there aren’t any state taxes.” Years of politicians treating them like STDs will have that effect.

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