NEVADA’S CLIMATE OPPORTUNITY: ECONOMIC RECOVERY & REVITALIZATION

Climate change touches everything. No sector of the global economy—including Nevada’s—will escape its effects. There are real and prescient concerns. But new opportunities arise from challenges. Nevada can respond to the looming effects and threats of climate change by continuing to diversify, and by creating new, clean, and green jobs that benefit both the economy and the environment.

Implementing policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will create new jobs and contribute to sustaining the state’s economic diversification strategy.

Implementing policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will create new jobs and contribute to sustaining the state’s economic diversification strategy—an important goal. Additionally, the current economic crisis created by COVID-19 has meant the loss of thousands of jobs across the state. As heard in the Climate Strategy Listening Sessions, Nevada can proactively address the need for more workforce training and retraining by leveraging the Nevada System of Higher Education’s demonstrated ability to respond to economic and workforce priorities, including climate action. By making climate a central consideration of job growth and economic development strategies and “hard-wiring” climate consideration into all economic development initiatives, Nevada can work toward “future proofing” the state’s job sectors and economy from a climate perspective. The result of this effort in Nevada can be more and better jobs that are less prone to climate-driven impacts or their fallout, greater prosperity for individuals and businesses, and increased opportunity for all.

CLIMATE-CONSCIOUS ECONOMIC RECOVERY AND RESILIENCY

Climate change is “expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy” (NCA, 2018). The ability to proactively anticipate, prepare for, and respond to climate change-related economic and job impacts requires climate-conscious economic stabilization, recovery, and development.

Just as it is necessary to design and build climate-resilient infrastructure (i.e., transportation, water, energy, and telecommunications systems) that is more flexible and responsive to a variety of climate impacts, climate-conscious economic recovery and development efforts seek to better prepare for the looming economic effects of a changing climate, enabling agility and resilience in the state’s economy in the face of disruptions climate change causes.

Nevada has begun the process of diversifying its historic dependence on hospitality, gaming, and entertainment. While these traditional economic activities have been and will continue to be important for Nevada, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession has illustrated why increased diversification is essential. As Nevada build a cleaner and more climate-resilient future aligned with the state’s economic agenda.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) publication A New Economic Agenda for Nevada: Final Report identifies climate change as the one of the most-significant threats facing the state’s economy. However, by employing strategic and targeted approaches to climate-resilient economic development, innovation, and workforce training, climate change action can generate more and better jobs, optimize educational and workforce pipelines, and improve the state’s economic resilience.

In Nevada, climate change and environmental degradation already pose significant threats to our lands and waters, air quality, and health—and to sustained economic and job growth and prosperity. For example, rising temperatures will combine with water and energy resource constraints to magnify economic impacts due to climate change, for example affecting both the value and supply chains of mining, which could have both direct (operational and performance-based) and indirect (securing of supplies and rising energy costs) impacts. The economic threat climate change represents to prosperity in Nevada grows significantly in the mid- to long-term. For example, snow level elevation changes and changing snow conditions threaten the supply chain of water resources for arid agriculture and the snow sports segment of Nevada’s growing outdoor recreation economy. Tourism, which accounts for 26% of the state’s total employment, will be directly affected by increased heatwave days, and could lead to commercial aviation impacts.

Indeed, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) publication A New Economic Agenda for Nevada: Final Report identifies climate change as the one of the most-significant threats facing the state’s economy. However, by employing strategic and targeted approaches to climate-resilient economic development, innovation, and workforce training, climate change action can generate more and better jobs, optimize educational and workforce pipelines, and improve the state’s economic resilience. The Nevada Recovery and Resiliency Plan released by GOED (December 2020) states “cleantech proved to be resilient when the [COVID-19] downturn came and will be [part of] the foundation for the future.”

Virtually all activities associated with climate-resilient economic recovery and development efforts support the specific strategic directions and action recommendations outlined in A New Economic Agenda for Nevada: Final Report. Similarly, the GOED Nevada Recovery and Resiliency Plan identifies five strategic categories for initiatives the state must enact to ensure medium-term economic resilience and prosperity following the disastrous economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Regionally-Designed Industrial Clusters
  • Statewide Integration and Connectivity
  • Technology-Driven Development
  • Responsible and Sustainable Growth
  • Comprehensive Placemaking

These categories provide a useful architecture in which to embed climate-related job growth, economic recovery, and resilience actions and investments.

BETTER JOBS FORWARD

The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on jobs in Nevada cannot be overstated, causing a February–September 2020 loss of 129,400 jobs, or more than 9% of the state’s workforce, often affecting underrepresented segments of the state’s population. Nevada can and should ensure that climate action is a part of the state’s economic recovery, resilience, and job-growth efforts, and represents more-inclusive economic growth—and as was voiced in climate listening sessions—becomes ”hard-wired” into the state’s economic development efforts.

Nevada can and should ensure that climate action is a part of the state’s economic recovery, resilience, and job-growth efforts, and represents more-inclusive economic growth—and as was voiced in climate listening sessions—becomes ”hard-wired” into the state’s economic development efforts.

Clean Energy Technologies

Three key clean energy sectors in Nevada—energy efficiency, solar energy generation, and storage—already represent 32,000 jobs in the state, and account for 91 percent of the state’s clean energy jobs. The larger clean energy sector experience 32.43 percent job growth in 2018, helping rank the state third nationwide for jobs in energy storage (E2 2019).

“Nevada’s natural resources can be an economic driver. We see an opportunity with electric vehicles and related infrastructure to cut fueling for public and private fleets. Clean energy could fuel thousands of new jobs through targeted clean energy investments by the federal and Nevada state government[…]If we’re going to rebuild, let’s do so strategically and position ourselves for long-term success. Let’s focus on investments in clean energy, energy-efficiency projects, and electric vehicles that will grow jobs, keep our environment healthy, save businesses and consumers money, and help us become more resilient to climate change. We need to plan for a climate-friendly, low-carbon economy now; we’ve seen with COVID-19 what happens when we don’t listen to scientists.”

– Ann Silver, Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce

Energy Efficiency and Green Building

Because the energy-efficiency sector represented the largest share of jobs and the greatest absolute growth among U.S. Climate Alliance states, Nevada can and should integrate into regional and global value and supply chains tied to energy-efficiency growth. Doing so would also support the economic recovery and resilience goal GOED identified.

Alternative Transportation

Building on the state’s identified categories for strategic effort—Technology-Driven Development and Statewide Integration and Connectivity—Nevada is well-positioned geographically and from a workforce opportunity standpoint to grow alternative transportation technologies and related jobs, building on its investments in and groundwork for battery storage and renewable energy generation jobs and growth.

Grid Modernization and Storage

Nevada is poised to lead the growth of global energy storage supply chains. The state can and should seize this opportunity. This includes developing Nevada’s lithium sector, not only to close a critical gap in Nevada’s energy storage production, but also to enable Nevada to become a net exporter of lithium. Additionally, the Nevada Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Advanced Energy Jobs identifies two economic clusters showing particular promise: solar energy and batteries.

Nevada is poised to lead the growth of global energy storage supply chains. The state can and should seize this opportunity.

Water Conservation Technologies

Climate change requires wise planning and use of water resources. Additionally, Nevada is naturally the driest state in the country, a condition that climate change will only exacerbate. Water conservation technology growth represents an opportunity to advance identified strategic economic resilience goals including building upon regionally-designed industrial clusters in the state. Because of Nevada’s previous investments, water technologies is area of opportunity for continued job and economic growth. Strategic investments in research, development, and commercialization of water conservation technologies can build upon Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) programs already in place (e.g. Box 1) and position Nevada as a leader of water conservation technologies, jobs, and value/supply chains.

Water conservation technology growth represents an opportunity to advance identified strategic economic resilience goals including building upon regionally-designed industrial clusters in the state.

Box 1. WaterStart

WaterStart accelerates the development and adoption of innovative water technologies across Nevada. Addressing 16 identified water priorities in the state, WaterStart has developed solutions for dozens of companies worth more than $30 million and created 168 new jobs through water-wise technology growth and solutions in three years. The program was launched with funding from GOED’s Knowledge Fund, leveraging the expertise at the Desert Research Institute.

Recycling

As heard in the State Climate Strategy economic recovery listening session, recycling creates at least nine times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that recycling and reuse provided 1.25 million American jobs, whereas landfilling and incineration provided 250,000 jobs. Recycling and reuse generated annual payrolls of nearly $37 billion and more than $236 billion in annual revenues. The EPA and the National Recycling Coalition assert that reaching a 75% recycling rate is achievable, and if reached will generate 1.5 million new jobs and create environmental benefits equivalent to removing 50 million cars from the road each year. Additionally, in the listening session we heard about the need for increased domestic recycling program capacity, particularly in low-income and underrepresented communities across the state. One promising industrial recycling opportunity for the state may lie in developing a site in Southern Nevada as a combination rare earth metals concentrator and recycling facility. One result from doing so would be a reduction in carbon emissions associated with the export of Nevada’s rare earth metals to China, where these metals are currently processed and then shipped back for industrial use. This would also address a strategic national security concern for rare earth metal supply chains.

Additional

State-identified areas of special economic development and job growth attention—including aerospace and defense, agriculture, mining, and hospitality—represent significant job growth opportunities in ways that advance both the economic and climate agendas of the state.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, TRAINING, AND EDUCATION

According to GOED’s A New Economic Agenda for Nevada, “While Nevada’s economy has been successful in diversifying broadly (away from concentration in tourism, gaming, and entertainment, for example), at a narrower level, diversification may still be concentrated in lower-wage sub-sectors.”

This represents an opportunity to grow higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs associated with GHG mitigation, climate adaptation, and climate resilience. This is aligned with GOED’s articulation that “Nevada must provide opportunities for skill development and workforce training for workers with lower levels of formal educational credentials or education. This is important to ensure that these often-enterprising and hardworking workers are not discouraged from participating in the labor force and have opportunities for growth” (SRI, 2018). NSHE institutions and the state should continue focusing on building a workforce skillset for yet-to-come and emerging industries, similar to how it has navigated needs surrounding advanced manufacturing and battery storage technologies.

NSHE institutions and the state should continue focusing on building a workforce skillset for yet-to-come and emerging industries.

Energy efficiency jobs are primarily associated with green construction, with emphases on green building practices, architecture, building performance, building code officials, builders, trades, engineers, and others that are not always included as green jobs. Each of these sectors require workforce training and increased knowledge of the ever-changing technologies that drive change in green building practices. As was heard in the listening session, Nevada has, in addition to NSHE programs, skilled labor training and workforce development programs with the building and construction trades councils and other trade unions that can and do support green building and energy efficiency training needs—key tools to help address these needs.

The current workforce of building code officials is expected to retire in the next 10–15 years, leaving vulnerabilities in the implementation and compliance of new codes aimed at improving building efficiency and reducing the built environment’s carbon footprint. Opportunities to learn about this career and technical pathway are not currently provided in K-12 schools, except through independent nonprofits. This deficit represents a strategic opportunity for action to reflect the needs for energy efficiency, building performance, and building code enforcement workforces that are the basis for a more-climate-conscious built environment.

Connecting Clean Energy and Education: UNLV Solar Decathlon

Initiated in 2002 and designed to highlight the inventiveness and creativity of architectural students around the world, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a showcase of sustainability and innovation. Every other year, students from universities across the globe participate to conceptualize, design, and build the future of earth-friendly construction. Incorporating the latest eco-friendly techniques, these projects serve to demonstrate as a proof of concept what can be accomplished using a variety of methods and integrating the surrounding environment. The Solar Decathlon is more than a competition. It is a unique learning experience for consumers and homeowners as they discover the latest technologies and materials in energy-efficient design, clean energy technologies, smart home solutions, water conservation measures, electric vehicles, and high-performance buildings.

Of the many teams that vie for a spot in the competition, the program from UNLV has been one of the most successful at demonstrating that sustainable building can not only be functional, but stylish. Looking at their most recent build, “Mojave Bloom”, it is clear that the surrounding environment has influenced the home’s design. This build aims to be an energy-neutral or “autonomous” home able to thrive in the harsh Mojave Desert climate and operate independent of all public utility services. Mojave Bloom combines new and emerging off-shelf renewable energy systems, technologies, products, and appliances that promote sustainability. This 400- to 600-square-foot smart solar home has been conceptualized as a place of healing and respite for military veterans suffering the adverse mental health impacts from wartime trauma. There is a significant need for veteran housing in the Las Vegas Valley. Three student team members are military veterans, and the students will also gather feedback during focus groups with the community to aid design plans.

Programs such as Project ReCharge, administered through the Nevada nonprofit Envirolution, provide opportunities around the state for teachers in middle and high schools to obtain science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) training and curriculum that they then can pass on to their classrooms year after year to help develop and train our future workforce on the importance of building efficiency. These programs are opportunities to invest in the future workforce that will continue the fight against climate change.

The NSHE research enterprise is also uniquely poised to contribute to clean technology through research, development, and innovation that is connected with climate-action goals. From geothermal energy research at the University of Nevada, Reno to WaterStart (see Box 1) to laboratory discoveries at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) that could revolutionize energy, research in Nevada can play an important role in bolstering advances in clean energy and climate-friendly technology.