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Groups: Nevada's old mine sites could help meet energy goal

Barrick Goldstrike Mines' Betze-Post open pit near Carlin

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A think tank and an advocacy group say Nevada could adapt old mines and former industrial sites to meet an aggressive clean energy benchmark that voters have endorsed with a statewide initiative.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the Rocky Mountain Institute identified more than 2.8 million acres of already disturbed land statewide that appears ripe for renewable energy development.

The Nature Conservancy also is partnering with the Nevada Mining Association to change state regulations to encourage the use of old mine sites for green power projects.

“Nevada can lead the way in the West on this,” southern Nevada conservancy official John Zablocki said. “I think on this issue, it’s really there. We want to make it easier to develop on these sites.”

Zablocki said the federal Environmental Protection Agency has supported efforts by his organization, the institute and the Wilderness Society to promote policies and incentives to spur development on what he called overlooked former mines, landfills and other industrial sites.

A state administrative rule now lists renewable energy development and storage as an acceptable post-production use for shuttered mining operations.

Question 6, the measure to promote renewable energy, passed on Nov. 6 and must pass again in 2020 to take effect.

It would amend the state constitution to raise to 50 percent by 2030 the amount of solar, wind or geothermal electricity provided by electric utilities in the state.

The current benchmark is 25 percent by 2025. The state’s dominant electric utility, NV Energy, says it already has a 24 percent clean-energy portfolio.

The report by the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute used existing EPA data on potentially contaminated industrial “brownfield” sites in Nevada. Many already have access to roads and transmission lines.

It found a potential to produce enough geothermal energy to meet about one-third of the new green energy standard, enough wind energy to meet the standard two times over and enough solar energy to meet the standard 20 times over, the Review-Journal reported. A surge in large-scale green energy development in recent years has put some conservation advocates in an awkward spot.

Though they favor renewables, they don’t like seeing large expanses of once-pristine public land torn up and covered with wind turbines and solar panels.

Kyle Roerink, spokesman for the Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future group that promoted Question 6, said the initiative merely seeks to raise the state’s renewable energy benchmark, not take sides in thorny debates about wind versus solar or utility-scale versus rooftop solar panels.

The campaign was underwritten by California billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer, founder of the group NextGen Climate Action.

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