Business leaders call for cheaper renewable energy in Nevada

By: Oskar Garcia (AP)
By: Oskar Garcia (AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Representatives from corporate giants Google Inc. and General Electric Co. said Tuesday that transitioning the United States to renewable energy on a large scale would be possible - if renewable energy were cheaper.

Dan Reicher, director for climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, told a group of politicians and energy experts meeting in Las Vegas that renewable energy options will remain "boutique" industries unless their costs are cut to make them competitive with coal and other widely used power sources.

"There's a whole set of factors that go into the ultimate cost of energy," Reicher said after announcing a new plan for Google to invest more than $10 million to develop "enhanced geothermal systems" technology to generate energy from rocks deep below the earth's surface.

Google's project replicates traditional geothermal systems deep below the Earth's surface by circulating water through hot rock and running the steam through a turbine that generates electricity.

Google said its goal was to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity - enough to power a major city.

"These are all high capital costs projects," Reicher said.

The group met at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and by the end of a national energy agenda to take to the Democratic and Republican parties at their upcoming conventions.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who organized the National Clean Energy Summit along with the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the university, said that the ideas presented would be heard by leaders in both parties, even though convention platforms had been set long ago.

"There are resolutions that will come from both Republican and Democratic conventions," Reid said. "Even if nothing comes from the conventions in writing - which I'm confident they will - we're all going to take the messages."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the energy discussion was timely, and he criticized presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain for not having a real debate about energy.

"They're treating us to a political silly season," Bloomberg said, not mentioning either candidate by name but citing ideas such as tapping the nation's strategic oil reserve or giving Americans a gas tax holiday.

"The best that can be said about these ideas is that they're pandering," Bloomberg said. "Far worse, they're distractions from the deadly serious business of creating a new national energy policy."

One by one, 29 speakers touted the benefits of various energy-related initiatives on Tuesday: How large-scale solar power could generate thousands of jobs, why wind power could lessen America's dependence on foreign oil. Extending tax credits, establishing caps on carbon emissions and modernizing the nation's electricity grid - ideas speakers said would be crucial to building a "green" economy.

A series of panels included presentations on job growth in the renewable energy industry, improving efficiency for businesses and government's role in encouraging a transition from fossil fuels, but they featured little in the way of back-and-forth discussion.

By the end of the meeting, the group had drafted a laundry list of issues it wants federal and state governments to consider.

General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt did not attend, but said in a video that the government and the business community need to move forward.

"The technology exists, the time is now," he said. "We need a call to action - not a call to go to another conference."

Former President Bill Clinton laid out a 10-point plan Monday that included expanded research for carbon dioxide storage and accelerating a shift toward plug-in hybrid electric cars.

Texas oil baron T. Boone Pickens also presented his plan to develop wind energy to generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity, then use natural gas to power cars until hydrogen or plug-in electric cars become widely available.

"I don't see many people from my party," said Pickens, a Republican. "I'm making new friends, and that's good."

Former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also addressed the group.

Reid said the event would become an annual meeting, and said next year's meeting would "most likely" be held in Las Vegas.


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