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RTC Transportation Summit Aims To Accelerate Silver State's Greening

Courtesy RTC

An electric bus greets attendees at the RTC's Clean Energy and Transportation Summit

It was hard to miss last week’s RTC Clean Energy and Transportation Summit.

Along with elected officials, utility executives and regulators, businesspeople, union representatives, and academics, there were electric buses parked out front.

On the agenda were speakers talking about how Nevada is on a path to a green transportation future.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said legislation he signed this year can cement the state’s leadership in new transportation technologies. 

 “Nevada is leading the way in deploying the technology for advancing autonomous and electric vehicles,” he said.

The head of the Regional Transportation Committee, Tina Quigley, told KNPR's State of Nevada that traditionally the energy sector was the biggest producer of greenhouse gasses, but that has changed and now transportation is the biggest sector generating greenhouse gasses.

"More than ever we are recognizing that it is time to step up," she said, "It is time to start having these conversations and being a part of national groups that are advancing and leading newer technologies and testing and deploying and then also at a local level taking some of that on as well."

One of those newer technologies is electric buses. Two electric bus companies showed off their products at the summit. 

However, Quigley said deploying an all-electric fleet of buses in Southern Nevada would be a challenge. The biggest problem right now is battery life.

"The power draw related to air conditioning draws that battery power down," she said.

The buses were able to travel 77 miles on one charge but buses in Southern Nevada need to travel 350 miles. 

Quigley said there may be some routes in Southern Nevada where electric buses could be used like on shorter routes. The RTC hopes to have those routes and a couple of electric buses on the road by the end of 2020.

Transportation was only part of what the summit focused on. Chief among other topics discussed was how the state's energy sector is moving to more sustainable practices.

Jennifer Taylor is the deputy director of the Governor's Office on Energy. Her office is tasked with implementing laws, policies and programs related to Nevada's energy industry.

She said even though Nevada is a small state population-wise it is already pushing forward on clean energy initiatives like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which dictates how much energy must come from renewable sources, and building out infrastructure for electric vehicle chargers along the state's five major highways. 

"In some ways, being a smaller state is great for being able to move those initiatives forward because we can more readily collect and collaborate with the folks that we need to move forward on our initiatives and on our goals."

To that end, the state joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is a group of states that have banded together to address climate change on a state level.

"Even though there may not be action at the federal level, there is action nationwide to tackle these challenges," Taylor said.

Besides transportation and energy, another sector of the economy that is working on better sustainability practices is the building and construction business.

UNLV's School of Architecture is leading the way in that regard. Professor Eric Weber told KNPR's State of Nevada that the construction industry is the third greatest emitter of greenhouse gasses.

"That is one area that we're looking at: how do we use materials effectively to reduce their carbon footprint in the building industry," Weber said.

There is also an emphasis on better design of buildings and better materials to address the phenomenon of urban heat islands, which is when materials like concrete and asphalt absorb the suns heat during the day and then release it at night.

Urban heat islands cause cities to be warmer and require more energy to cool off. 

Weber said the concrete and clay tiles being used around the Southwest for roofs are actually some of the worst materials for roofs because they absorb so much heat.

Instead, during the last Solar Decathlon, which is a national competition to see which university can build the most sustainable house, students used a metal roof. 

While it sounds strange, Weber said galvanized metal roofs actually release their heat much faster than concrete and clay. 

"It is on us as educators and professionals to make sure that we implement these responsible practices," he said.

Tina Quigley, CEO, Regional Transporation Commission of Southern Nevada; Jennifer Taylor, deputy director, Governor’s Office on Energy;  Eric Weber, professor, UNLV School of Architecture

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.