Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 3, 2011

Nevada will be "energy independent within the immediate future"

In a recent TV interview, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid made a striking claim about his home state. Reid said Nevada will be "energy independent within the immediate future."

During the Jan. 18, 2011, interview, Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston asked Reid how soon Nevada can start exporting its energy to other states.

"It’s going to take a while, but some of that is happening right now," Reid said, citing a power line between northern and southern Nevada that’s in the works.

"California has a rule that one-third of all their electricity by the year 2020 must come from renewable sources," Reid said. "They simply can’t do it. So we will be the chief state that they will import their energy from."

Ralston prodded, "How long is it going to take to get that to happen?"

"I would say within the next three or four years," Reid responded.

"That fast?" Ralston asked.

"Oh yeah, we are going to be able to be energy independent within the immediate future," Reid said.

We decided to see if the senator was correct.

We began by contacting the Nevada State Office of Energy, which keep statistics on the state's energy sources, but Spokesman Sean Sever said his agency "doesn't have anything to prove or disprove this statement."

So we turned to Scot Rutledge, the executive director of the Nevada Conservation League and Education Fund, a leading environmental group in the state. Rutledge was skeptical.

He said that Nevada could stop importing coal by shutting down a few plants in northern Nevada, and the state does have enough geothermal resources to theoretically replace fossil-fuel powered plants, particularly natural gas. "But that would take longer than three to four years," he said.

In the meantime, Nevada does have impressive solar resources, and if the state developed sufficient storage capacity, that might be enough to provide 24-hour electricity for homes and businesses.

But being a net exporter of energy does not necessarily mean being "energy independent." That’s because cars, trucks and airplanes have to run on fuel, too -- and the state does not have enough oil for that.

"We would need to convert every vehicle on the road to electric," Rutledge said, and then provide fuel obtained in-state for airplanes.

All told, Rutledge said, it’s conceivable that Nevada might be able to export more energy than it imports "over the next seven to 10 years, but I don't think that is a true definition of energy independence."

Rutledge speculated that Reid may simply have been overzealous in echoing comments from 2008 by former President Bill Clinton. Clinton told a national clean-energy summit-- held in Nevada and co-sponsored by Reid -- that the state could one day become energy independent, as could such countries as Liberia, Rwanda, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

At the same summit, Reid said in a speech that "the sun shines here all the time. The wind blows much of the time, and we're one of the few states that has massive amounts of geothermal energy. That's why I refer to Nevada as the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. Tax incentives and upgraded transmission capacity could make the goals set forth for Nevada a reality."

Indeed, when we contacted Reid’s office, spokesman Jon Summers repeated the theme of Nevada as a huge repository of untapped energy.

Reid "has a vision of Nevada leading the nation in clean energy production," Summers said. "He’s been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in the state’s clean energy industry. Nevada’s north-to-south transmission line, which is expected to be completed in less than three years, will allow the state’s population centers to secure clean energy from rural areas and even export it outside the state. In his interview, Sen. Reid said he thinks that energy independence is going to take a while but some of it is already happening."

We’ll grant that in the interview, the discussion began with the question of how fast Nevada can begin exporting energy out of the state. But Reid went on to say the state would be "energy independent within the immediate future," which means all of the state’s energy would be produced within its own boundaries. Even if Nevada successfully taps into its solar and other energy resources, it is many years away from changing all of its cars, trucks and planes from fossil fuels to fuels that can be produced within the state. So we rate Reid’s statement False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Face to Face with Jon Ralston, video, Jan. 18, 2011

Las Vegas Sun, "Senate majority leader is reborn but still the same," (column by Jon Ralston), Jan. 19, 2011

Environment News Service, "National Clean Energy Summit Generates Fresh Ideas,"  Aug. 20, 2008

E-mail interview with Sean Sever, spokesman for the Nevada State Office of Energy, Jan. 19, 2011

E-mail interview with Scot Rutledge, Nevada Conservation League and Education Fund, Jan. 19, 2011

E-mail interview with Jon Summers, spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, Jan. 20, 2011

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Louis Jacobson

Nevada will be "energy independent within the immediate future"

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up