Renewables need private capital

Nevada may be rich in renewable resources, but it needs plenty of money to develop them.

That's one of the biggest challenges facing the nascent industry nationwide, said speakers at last week's Western States Renewable Energy Summit in Reno.

"We need to make the investment community understand why this is a good place to put their money," said Sen.

Randolph Townsend (R-Washoe County) speaking at the event.

"We need to focus on venture capital and the standard equity side and make them understand."

That is easier said than done, though, according to those involved in the business.

"The investment community is skeptical of an industry that needs subsidies," said Hank Habicht, chief executive officers of the Global Environment & Technology Foundation, and founding principal of Capital E, LLC, a firm that promotes investment in new energy technology.

Steve Zwolinski, president and CEO of GE Wind Energy, agreed.

One of the most important goals for the renewable energy industry, he said, is to quickly get away from government subsidization in order to start attracting more private capital.

One way to market it in the meantime is to spotlight public interest in the technology, said Dennis Thomas, former Texas public utilities commissioner and founder of Public Decision Partnership, which conducts polls on energy issues.

Thomas said consumers are willing to pay more for renewable energy for a wide variety of reasons, according to a series of polls taken by his firm.

"As an investor it is generally better to invest in things people want and there is serious underlying demand for renewables," said Thomas.

The event also highlighted other challenges to the industry, including connecting to the nation's power grid and pinpointing the resources that are out there.

To that end, Sen.

Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was on hand to unveil two new maps - one of geothermal resources in 13 western states and the other of wind resources in Nevada.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory wind map showed Nevada has almost 7,000 megawatts available for development.

Every megawatt equals a $1 million investment, a third of which is estimated to go to the local economy.

If all of Nevada's wind resources are developed, it would mean $2 billion to the state economy, according to NREL estimates.

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