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The Nevada Independent

Leader of Nevada energy office says it’s bittersweet to be agency’s first Black director

Naoka Foreman
Naoka Foreman
Energy
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The leader of Nevada’s energy department is 11 calendar years old. 

Dwayne McClinton, who was appointed state director of the Governor's Office of Energy (GOE) by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo last month, was born on Feb. 29 during a leap year 47 years ago. 

But what he lacks in birthdays, he makes up for in life experiences, which he said include beating the odds growing up in “gang-infested” South Central Los Angeles, serving in the Marine Corps and working jobs across the spectrum of the energy industry. 

“I look at it in this sense,” he said in a recent interview with The Nevada Independent. “I've served my country, now I get the opportunity to serve my state.” 

McClinton, whose appointment came after leading the political strategy for Southwest Gas, now leads an all-female team at the GOE. He said it brings him satisfaction knowing that his work helps Nevadans and the climate.  

He is also the first person of color to lead Nevada’s office of energy since it was established in 1975 as a result of the decade’s shift in the national energy landscape, which included spikes in gasoline prices, clean energy movements and the creation of the U.S. Department of Energy in 1977.

“To be honest, it’s bittersweet,” McClinton said about being the first Black director or person of color to head Nevada’s energy department. “[But] of course, I am honored to have been appointed.”

McClinton grew up in a two-parent household with a father he said that he feared “more than anybody else.” He said his father’s sternness helped him survive growing up in Los Angeles during the “crazy ’80s and ’90s.”

“Just in high school alone, I lost five friends,” he said. “In my senior year of high school alone.” 

McClinton said his friends were gunned down for simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time in his hometown of Inglewood, California. He said he cherishes each year he’s lived past age 21.

In search of discipline, he dropped out of college, joined the U.S. Marine Corps and then worked in logistics for four years. At age 26, a fellow veteran hired him for a role at Penpower, a subsidiary of GE Wind.

“A week later, I found myself in Sweetwater, Texas, staring up 300 feet at a wind turbine that I was being asked to climb, to do a climb test,” McClinton said. “From there, the rest is history.”

He spent the bulk of his career — 15 years — in wind energy, followed by five years in solar and the past five and a half years in natural gas, which, he said, opened the door for him to build relationships in all levels of government in Nevada.

“Since my introduction to wind energy, I just became fascinated with what goes into developing these projects,” he said, “and how we're looking at providing clean energy to folks.”

He said he has a “holistic and realistic” approach to diversifying the state’s energy portfolio, with a focus on providing “reliable, sustainable and affordable energy to all Nevadans.” McClinton also said he does not see a near-term “clean energy future” that excludes natural gas, which was solidified in Nevada last Monday through the governor’s executive order on energy

Lombardo’s order called for a “balanced approach” to energy that includes renewables and fossil fuels, and emphasizes affordability and reliability of power. Environmentalists said the order took a pivot away from the more clean energy-centric policies of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration, and criticized the plan. 

Before McClinton took over the office of energy, it was helmed by David Bobzien, a former Democratic assemblyman and Reno city councilman, who was appointed by Sisolak in 2019. He resigned Dec. 7 for a job in the private sector. That left the seat open for the first Black leader in its nearly 50-year history.

McClinton said that the lack of diversity in 2023 is “a little disappointing.”

The new leader, who is a registered Democrat, said that one of his goals is to publicize the office so that people understand what the agency does. According to the office’s website, its mission is to “ensure the wise development of Nevada's energy resources in harmony with local economic needs.” 

Agency leaders also want to position the state to lead the nation in renewable energy production, energy conservation, the exportation of energy and transportation electrification. 

“I have a phenomenal team,” he said. “And we're gonna do some great work for the state.”

Getting to net zero

“I know the topic in Nevada, as it is across the country, is climate change,” McClinton said. 

He said the best way for Nevada to get to net zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — a goal put in motion by the Sisolak administration — is by using the energy resources that naturally exist in Nevada. McClinton said wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen, hydroelectric and natural gas could all play a role in providing cleaner, low-carbon energy to Nevadans.

“Can we ever get to net zero?” McClinton said. “We're gonna find out. I won't say yes. I won't say no. But we'll find out.”

In 2019, lawmakers set a 50 percent mandate for the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 2030, and McClinton said Nevada is a “little ahead of schedule.” Currently, the state has a 31 percent rate.

An RPS typically requires that a specific percentage of electricity sold comes from renewable energy, which is tracked through a credit system. Credits can be bought and sold from different entities if a utility is short on its renewable mandate.

The state has also set goals to reduce carbon emissions, including a statewide greenhouse gas reduction goal of 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and zero or near-zero by 2050.

He said gas industries are looking to use hydrogen blended gas and renewable natural gas in place of traditional natural gas, which is a fossil fuel that emits carbon when burned. Some analysts fear that hydrogen blending is more explosive, corrosive and under-tested, while others see it as a green-friendly lifeline that can be leveraged by existing gas infrastructure in a way that positions the U.S. as a hydrogen sector powerhouse

Natural gas, which was once seen as a climate-friendly alternative to petroleum and coal, has become a new flashpoint in the debate over climate change, with activists saying reducing its use is a critical next step in cutting carbon emissions. But as a prevalent fuel, efforts in the Legislature to curb it and the specter of banning it for household appliances has drawn backlash.

A recent poll by The Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights showed that 54 percent of Nevadans somewhat or strongly oppose a ban on gas stoves. McClinton said he doesn’t think customers will face such a choice in the near future.

“Between hydrogen and renewable natural gas … you can still have a gas stove,” McClinton said.

The March 27 executive order that established Nevada’s energy objectives focused on ensuring that Nevadans have access to “electric, natural gas service, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources” for their homes and businesses. It also called for advancing energy independence and implementing policies that reduce regulations for energy projects. 

The order will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2033, unless terminated by the leader of the state. 

McClinton said in order for energy independence, or the process of reducing the use of imported energy, to make sense for Nevadans, the cost to do so should have little to no financial blowback on power bills. He said his priority, when it comes to energy independence, is to ensure that it is affordable to ratepayers. 

Nevada generates most of its electricity, 62 percent, from natural gas, with renewable energy making up the majority of the rest to supply power plants. According to the GOE, 86 percent of Nevada’s fuel for energy comes from outside of the state, while other types of energy, such as solar and geothermal, are exported to neighboring states.

This story was updated at 12:39 P.M. to correct the spelling of Penpower.

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