Can we fail at being sustainable and yet lead an economic recovery by developing a renewable-resource industry? It’s a question that Vegas and, more broadly, Nevada faces in these economically and environmentally challenging times.
Two recent studies show that a) we really suck at sustainability right now; but b) we’d love to have the budding renewable-energy industry save us from economic blight. Somewhere between not living in a manner that’s good for our natural resources and wanting some of those resources to bail us out of our economic woes lies a lot of policy work.
SustainLane.com recently published its annual U.S. City Sustainability Rankings, which rank the nation’s 50 most populous cities in 15 categories related to whether they use natural resources at a rate that can be replenished. Las Vegas ranked 47th overall, nudging out the environmental meccas of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Mesa, Arizona. Portland, Oregon, ranked first.
In noting our problems with being cooperative with our natural surroundings, SustainLane, a hub of renewable-resource information, wrote, “Las Vegas: Viva?”
Vegas ranked 50th in the subcategory of water supply; 45th in air quality; 45th in local food and agriculture; and 40th in planning and land use.
Which brings us to the other poll, commissioned by Nevadans for Clean Energy and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in November. This study of Nevadans’ opinions of renewable energy as an economic resource showed that 85 percent of Nevada Republicans, 89 percent of state Democrats and 94 percent of independents believe investing in renewable energy would make for good jobs that would pull us out of an ailing economy.
“Nevada is so well-positioned [for renewable energy as an industry] because of the tremendous resources we have—sunlight, geothermal, wind—and the regulatory climate is conducive to business,” says David Archer, CEO of Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, an independent economic development organization.
But recruiting companies that will build a renewable-energy industry may be more difficult than solely providing tax breaks, says Launce Rake, communications director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
“Nevada has incredible promise in terms of developing clean alternative energy and supplying it to the entire southwest United States with that power. The problem is Nevada is not a nice place to live in many respects. Because of our antiquated tax structure our state does not have the revenue for good schools, essential human services and basic health care.”
That, says Rake, dissuades companies from coming here to help build the renewable-energy industry Nevada needs. The crossroads sets up an interesting, yet familiar, debate for the upcoming legislative session—will we invest in a quality of life that makes Nevada more appealing for new companies? Will we build a renewable-energy industry while failing to sustain our own existence?
“I think the Nevada public gets it. They understand that our economy is closely related to our energy,” says Lydia Ball, Sierra Club regional representative. “I think you will see a lot of push from elected officials to make renewable resources work, and put John Q. Public back to work.”