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Ann Silver: Focus on clean energy will aid economic rebound (Voices)

Ann Silver

Commerce Matters

Ann Silver is CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce.
Courtesy photo

There’s no denying Nevada has been hit harder than any state when it comes to the economic impacts of COVID-19: The nation’s highest unemployment rate.

A billion-plus-dollar budget gap that necessitated cuts to public health and education. Continued free-fall as our tourism-based economy sees fewer visitors, and major events cancel their 2020 and 2021 slates. Small businesses, the lifeline of our community, are struggling to survive.

But out of this crisis will come renewal, and Nevada is well positioned to come back stronger than ever if we do recovery the right way.

As I’ve stated before, the key to our recovery will be getting people back to work. One of the measures of success will be how we utilize the natural resources at our disposal to grow jobs and diversify our economy.

In at least one area, Nevada already has a track record we can replicate. Before the pandemic, Nevada ranked No. 1 for solar jobs per capita, and third in the country for jobs in energy storage. At least 77% of those clean energy jobs were in the construction and manufacturing sectors, offering well-paying wages.

In fact, Nevada provided $941 million in tax abatements through 2019, which netted $8.3 billion in capital investments, payroll and taxes paid, according to the Governor’s Office of Energy.

Those 9,500 jobs created through abatements paid an average of $41 an hour. This is what’s possible when you invest in Nevada’s natural resources: economic development that keeps jobs and money in the state.

It’s not just true in Nevada. Nationally, more people worked in clean energy at the end of 2019 than they did as nurses or schoolteachers. Over the last five years, the clean energy industry has added jobs 70% faster than the overall economy.

Through the pandemic, we’ve faced some losses. Yet unlike other states that have hemorrhaged clean energy jobs, Nevada has remained steady, demonstrating that this is a resilient industry. Retaining and expanding these jobs should be our focus for our recovery.

Recently, Governor Sisolak announced Nevada would adopt Clean Cars Standards, an undertaking that will speed the deployment of electric vehicles and signal that Nevada is ready to lead in this arena.

The state is also embarking on a Climate Strategy plan that will be rolled out later this year and will indicate what additional investments we can make to spur clean energy and clean transportation jobs while saving consumers and businesses money.

Using our abundant solar and geothermal resources is one way to invest in our economic development. Another would be to capitalize on the recent (and rare) Congressional consensus that allowed the Great American Outdoors Act to pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.

This legislation will add billions to conservation financing for national parks public lands, and state and local recreation centers through programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Last year we established the state’s first-ever Division of Outdoor Recreation; now it’s time to put that office to work to increase jobs that protect, maintain and build our beloved outdoor spaces, from Tahoe to Sparks.

It’s long been true that Nevada’s natural resources are economic drivers. As our communities recognize the need for clean air, clean water and clean energy, we can realize the development benefits that come from expanding beyond our significant tourism and gaming industry.

We can build a resilient, climate-friendly economy that values our natural treasures and puts Nevadans back to work.

“Commerce Matters” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW authored by Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Reach her for comment at asilver@thechambernv.org.