Carbon-Neutral Nevada

Expired: to emit the last breath; to die out, as a fire.

I think it’s time to set a big, audacious goal for Nevada. Let make it the nation’s first carbon-neutral state. That doesn’t mean we have to stop driving, cooking or heating our homes. It does mean that we would make a major commitment throughout the state to reduce energy consumption and increase renewable energy production. In the process, we will create jobs, build new infrastructure, transform communities and create something that all Nevadans can be proud of.

We have all the ingredients we need to make this happen and it starts with our homes. The national push to improve home efficiency has taken root in Nevada. Home energy audits and retrofits are poised to be the “next big thing” as energy prices continue upward and awareness of our climate problem increases. Purchasing a home without a prior energy audit is like buying a car without knowing the mileage rating. It’s basic information that one needs to make an informed decision.

Businesses are also heeding the call for energy efficiency. Green building is no longer a stranger to our state. An entire LEED Neighborhood is being built at Symphony Park in downtown Las Vegas and we have dozens of LEED certified buildings, including some of the largest in the world.

Nevada is a large state with a relatively small population. This works to our advantage in terms of becoming carbon-neutral. We have nature on our side with abundant solar, wind and geothermal resources. Our energy future has thankfully turned away from coal. New developments in renewable energy continue, including manufacturing facilities. Each sector is becoming increasingly viable as markets and technology mature. NV Energy continues to expand their renewable energy portfolio and the new transmission line linking north and south is underway.

As I’ve outlined in recent columns, there are good incentives for installing renewable energy systems and system component prices are down right now. These incentives don’t just apply to homeowners. Businesses, schools, local governments and agriculture all have opportunities to reduce the cost of clean energy.

New vehicles will be a part of this transformation toward a carbon-neutral Nevada. Car makers are racing to be among the first to introduce electric vehicles to the mass market. The fully-electric Nissan Leaf is coming soon as is a plug-in hybrid version of the Prius from Toyota. Some day there may even be a real Chevy Volt on the market after years of marketing hype. Other full electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, some of which are available now, include Tesla, Fisker, Zenn and Apterra. Electric charging stations powered with renewable energy, at home and elsewhere, will help take carbon out of the driving experience.

Bike trails are becoming more popular and abundant. As one of the most efficient and inexpensive methods of transportation, bikes are definitely part of the solution. For those who need a little extra help with hilly terrain or on hot days, electric bikes are a very fun, low-carbon alternative.

The last component of a successful carbon-neutral strategy is us, the people of Nevada. We can do this. There are literally thousands of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint. It’s that concept I like to call Green Living, a practice that helps us create a valuable legacy for future generations.

So we have all the pieces: Nature’s power, efficiency programs, financial incentives, manufacturing, alternative transportation, new technology, smart people to help re-invent our economy and the will to succeed. All we need is a bit of visionary leadership.

Davis, California’s city council recently approved a plan for carbon-neutrality by mid-century. Hundreds of other American cities are following suit. In Portland, Oregon, homeowners reduced their carbon emissions an average of 22 percent among households participating in a carbon reduction program. A similar program in Vermont achieved 23 percent. Massachusetts’ statewide program has commitments from Boston and several other cities, representing nearly one million residents.

The timing is right for Nevada to set its sights on becoming the nation’s first carbon-neutral state. What’s next? Just do it.

Green Living column for Thursday, March 25, 2010, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Nevada has potential to be first carbon-neutral state”