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Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm touts need for Nevada renewable energy production

Secretary: Antiquated mining law needs to be updated; no talks are on the table about nuclear storage at Yucca Mountain.
Amy Alonzo
Amy Alonzo
EnergyEnvironmentYucca Mountain
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The nation needs to double the size of its electric grid to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and renewable energy production in Nevada will be critical in helping the nation get there.

Nevada has more than 5.5 gigawatts of operational solar, wind and storage capacity, and there are about 6 gigawatts of additional clean energy generation planned for Nevada — enough to power 810,000 homes.

“Nevada can be a huge player in this given you are the number one state for solar potential,” Granholm told The Nevada Independent in a brief interview Thursday. “Capitalizing on that potential is a big opportunity.”

Granholm, the former governor of Michigan who was appointed to her position in 2021 by President Joe Biden, visited Las Vegas Thursday and Friday to tour renewable energy sites, speak with several congressional representatives and visit Allegiant Stadium, site of the upcoming Super Bowl. The stadium is powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Granholm is also attending the National Automobile Dealers Association Show on Friday, discussing the importance of transitioning to electric vehicles and clean transportation. To get there, the nation needs to focus on lithium production and processing, she said.

Nevada is home to the nation’s only functioning lithium mine, and the state contains the largest lithium deposit in the nation at under-construction Thacker Pass. As of September, there were an estimated 21,425 active lithium claims across the state of Nevada. 

Granholm also touted sizable federal loans that businesses received to expand lithium mining and battery production in Nevada.

In January 2023, Granholm signed off on a loan of up to $700 million to Ioneer to construct its Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine in central Nevada. The loan is the first federal loan to a lithium mining project in the U.S. The following month, the Department of Energy announced a conditional loan of $2 billion to Redwood Materials for the construction and expansion of a battery materials campus in Northern Nevada. The Redwood Materials project is the first domestic facility to offer a closed-loop lithium battery manufacturing process that recycles old lithium batteries into reusable, critical materials. At full production, the facility is anticipated to support the production of more than 1 million electric vehicles per year.

But Nevada and other states with critical mineral supplies would benefit from an updated mining law, Granholm said, referencing the Mining Law of 1872, the more than 150-year-old federal law that declares all valuable mineral deposits on public land to be free and open to exploration and purchase. Because miners and corporations do not pay federal royalties, it’s estimated more than $400 billion in minerals and gold have been extracted royalty-free.

“We need to do next generation mining, if you will, in a sustainable way,” she said. “We need a new mining law. The administration is interested in updating the mining law for sure.”

Despite Nevada’s central role in providing critical minerals for the nation, key Nevada lawmakers over the years have opposed changes to the mining law. 

Former Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), known for advocating for conservation of public lands, opposed the bill’s reformation, citing rural Nevada’s dependence on mining for jobs. 

In late 2021, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) successfully pushed back on a bill that would have imposed royalties on hardrock mining to fund abandoned mine cleanup. Nevada has the most abandoned mines in the nation. 

In September, the administration released a report recommending mining reform for the nation’s public lands.  

The Biden administration also has extensive interest in enhanced geothermal energy production — Nevada produces the second most geothermal energy in the nation — and solar, she said. 

The federal government is currently rolling out a new plan that will guide solar development in the West. The Western Solar Plan earmarks anywhere between 1.6 and 18 million acres in Nevada for solar development. 

When asked how development of clean energy sources should be combined with the preservation of sensitive cultural and environmental resources, Granholm stated that tribes need to be involved in the conversations about development from day one. 

“It’s obviously the just thing to do and equitable thing to do,” she said. “With all the critical minerals Nevada has, and with all the tribes and environmentalists who care deeply as we do, we want to ensure we get it right and do the consultation up front.”

Though the administration recently made headlines for reportedly offering a $1.5 billion loan to restart a shuttered nuclear reactor in Michigan, Granholm did not bring up nuclear energy production, only reiterated that there are no conversations at the federal level about renewing plans to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Southern Nevada. 

For decades, the battle has raged between Nevadans and the federal government over whether Southern Nevada’s Yucca Mountain should serve as a massive underground repository for nuclear waste. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump requested $116 million to restart construction at the site, which had been halted a decade earlier, but then reversed course in 2020.  

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