fbpx
Home > News > Business > Elected officials focus on job creation in Nevada as federal infrastructure bill sits in the House

Elected officials focus on job creation in Nevada as federal infrastructure bill sits in the House

By Jeri Chadwell
Gov. Steve Sisolak tours the Ormat Steamboat Hills energy plant with Ormat's vice president Paul Thomsen.

Gov. Steve Sisolak dubbed last week “Infrastructure Week” in Nevada. He kicked off the week with the first State Infrastructure Bank meeting last Monday and spent the rest of the week highlighting various projects in the state.

“Infrastructure is extremely important, whether it’s our renewable portfolio or the roads or broadband—and we’re looking at all of those things,” he said. “And hopefully we can expand on that. There’s a lot of jobs to be created as a part of our infrastructure program.”

The passage of Senate Bill 430 during the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature funded the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) at $75 million.

Infrastructure banks were authorized by the federal government in 1995. Since then, 39 states, Nevada included, have established SIBs. Nevada’s SIB was created in 2017 by the state legislature. SIBs offer direct loans or credit enhancement products to help fund infrastructure projects.

Eligible projects include those related to utilities, transportation, water and wastewater, renewable energy, recycling and sustainability, digital infrastructure, affordable housing, access to health care, food insecurity and public education.

The governor’s office called SB 430 “one of the largest job creation bills put forward and passed” during the session.

On Friday, Sisolak was joined by senior leadership from Ormat Technologies to tour the company’s Ormat geothermal Steamboat Hills energy plant on the south end of Reno and discuss how energy sources like this can be funded in the future as a direct result of the SIB.

“It’s a beautiful project—Steamboat Hills—that Ormat has put together here,” Sisolak said. “It’s producing a lot of renewable energy, which is extremely important to me and my administration to get our renewable portfolio up higher. We’re one of the states that produces a significant amount of geothermal, and they have figured out a way to do it efficiently and, at the same time, not damage the resource underground.”

Sisolak called renewable energy a “huge job creator” for the state.

“And these are good, quality jobs,” he said. “These are not minimum-wage jobs. These are career, family-supporting jobs, which I’m really thankful for.”

Paul Thomsen, vice president of business development for Ormat Technologies, said the power plant came online in 2020. He explained that the geothermal resource, if managed correctly, will last forever. The plant itself will operate for about 30 years before needing to be upgraded on the site.

“So, the geothermal reservoir lasts into perpetuity, and we’re just going to keep replacing power plants on top of it as they become a more efficient, smaller footprint,” he said.

Thomsen said the power plant employs 40 full-time employees. During construction, it employed around 400 people.

Cortez Masto on “Western Jobs Tour” ahead of expected infrastructure bill passage

Thomsen attended a roundtable discussion on Monday led by Nevada U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.

Cortez Masto is on her “Western Jobs Tour,” on which she was supposed to be joined by fellow Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia–however, Manchin’s flight into Reno was made impossible by choking wildfire smoke that continues blanketing the region.

Manchin is the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, upon which Cortez Masto also sits. The two senators were intended during the tour to tout the $1 trillion infrastructure package that recently passed in the Senate and is awaiting approval in the House.

“Literally, he got 72 miles outside of Reno, and they would not land because of the horrific weather and smoke from the wildfires,” Cortez Masto said. “They diverted him back to Delaware. He’s been trying to get here since Sunday night. So, no, he’s not going to be able to make it. But we are going to schedule another time for him to join me in the rurals.”

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto discusses the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and how it can benefit projects in Nevada during her "Western Jobs Tour" on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021 in Reno, Nev.
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto discusses the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and how it can benefit projects in Nevada during her “Western Jobs Tour” on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021 in Reno, Nev. Image: Jeri Chadwell / This Is Reno

Cortez Masto will continue her tour to discuss the infrastructure bill without Manchin. She’ll be headed east in the coming days, first to Winnemucca and then to Elko to hold meetings concerning gold mining and recreational tourism.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday said that she wants to see the infrastructure bill, backed by the Biden administration, passed by Oct. 1.

Nine moderate Democrats in the House have been threatening to vote against a broader $3.5 trillion spending bill planned to be taken up through reconciliations until the infrastructure bill is voted on

In addition to Thomsen representing Ormat, Monday’s roundtable in Reno included representatives from the Nevada Conservation League, Patagonia, American Battery Technology Company, the Walker River Paiute Tribe and the Governor’s Office of Energy, among others.

Cortez Masto and the attendees discussed how infrastructure projects in the state should proceed, with some attendees stressing difficulties that are faced by companies when it comes to permitting and suggesting the senator could work at the federal level on smoothing these processes.

Others, including conservationists and chair of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, Amber Torres, discussed the need to respect Nevada’s natural resources and ancestral Indigenous lands, especially where mining operations are concerned.

Torres said there is no greater “slap in the face” to Indigenous people than for the Tribes to be left out until the end of the planning and development process for projects, mining or otherwise, that may impede access to or otherwise disturb ancestral lands.

Mining projects, including planned lithium mining operations at Thacker Pass and Rhyolite Ridge, have drawn criticism from Nevada Tribes and conservation groups.

On June 24, the National Congress of American Indians, for which Torres is listed as the Western regional vice president, passed Resolution #AK-21-027 opposing, “the Thacker Pass lithium mine” and calling “on the Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to rescind the approval of the mine’s Plans of Operation.”

Cortez Masto said she believes equitable solutions can be found for protecting natural resources and culturally significant lands in Nevada, where more than 80% of the land is under the control of the federal government.

“There is the ability to bring, as you’ve heard in this room, folks from all backgrounds and all key stakeholders together to figure out how we do just that, how we recognize that making these investments in these critical minerals that are necessary for the technology that’s going to bring us the clean economy is important,” she said. “I know it can be done, and that’s the work we should be looking at together.”

During Monday’s roundtable, Cortez Masto again stressed the need for companies and agencies to prepare themselves to apply for infrastructure funds when they become available.

“What you will see here is us continuing to work now on how we … implement and appropriate the funds, get it here in our communities and make sure it benefits the businesses here and creates the jobs and really primes us for that innovation economy in Nevada,” she said.

Related Stories