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August 16, 2013

Clean Energy Summit Highlights Nevada's Energy Shift

Clean energy summit

What a difference a year makes.

One year ago at the National Clean Energy Summit in Nevada, Senator Harry Reid joined the Moapa Band of Paiutes in calling for the retirement of the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant. At this year's summit, the message wasn't just about celebrating its retirement, but also reaffirming the state's momentum in becoming a clean-energy leader. 

Thanks to legislation signed earlier this year, the Reid Gardner plant is scheduled to retire three of its four units by 2014 and phase out the fourth by 2017. The closing of the plant, which was Nevada's single biggest contributor to climate disruption, signified a huge victory for the state's transition to clean energy and commitment to clean air and healthy communities.

"Don't be afraid to talk about climate change," said Reid, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "It's time to stop entertaining the climate change deniers and start talking about the problems we face."

But there's more to the story. Defeating Big Coal couldn't have happened without the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the small Native American community that for decades had no means of pushing back against Reid Gardner's pollution that regularly made tribal members sick. With the reservation less than a mile downwind from the coal plant, closing the coal plant was literally a matter of life or death.

Now the focus is on solar energy's massive potential. Last year, Senator Reid called on the state to quit coal for good. This time, the senator joined Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Bruce Nilles in praising the Paiutes' 250-megawatt solar project that will be built on the reservation, create 600 construction jobs, and generate clean power to be sold to Los Angeles. 

That being said, with the imminent closure of the Reid Gardner coal plant, the cleanup of toxic pollution needs to start immediately, as it could take years to complete. After decades of polluting the area, a committed plan by the utility to clean up the site would be the right thing to do, and the Sierra Club and the Moapa Paiutes are working together to make sure that happens.

Overall, there was a lot to be happy about at Tuesday's summit. Coal provides 38 percent of the country's power, down from 50 percent in 2007. Nevada is gradually following in the footsteps of Los Angeles, Oregon, and Washington state in committing to 100 percent coal-free energy. Thankfully, coal's future looks bleak compared to clean energy's sunny outlook.  

-- Elspeth Cordua, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Nevada Representative

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