U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is using the closure of a solar power manufacturing plant in North Las Vegas to hit Democratic rival Shelley Berkley, who supports subsidies for clean energy projects.
The Amonix plant closed just 14 months after it opened, and after receiving $6 million in federal tax credits and a $15.6 million federal energy grant. Berkley, along with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, praised the plant when it opened as a step forward for Nevada and clean energy production.
But a spokeswoman for Heller’s campaign said the plant’s closure represents the failure of stimulus programs in Nevada.
“Congresswoman Berkley, when you voted for the trillion dollar stimulus, you promised it would create 34,000 jobs in Nevada. Nevada lost jobs. Congresswoman Berkley, you pushed $6 million in funding to a company that has created zero long-term jobs for Nevada. Congresswoman, it’s time. It’s time for you to admit the stimulus — and your policies — aren’t working,” said Chandler Smith, Heller for Senate spokeswoman.
(It was not immediately clear if Heller shares those views. Recently, he demurred when asked about an ad run by his campaign, referring reporters to the campaign as if it was somehow operating as an independent, third-party entity.)
For her part, a Berkley spokeswoman denounced Heller for piling on the loss of jobs suffered by Amonix workers for political gain.
“Shame on Senator Dean Heller,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, Berkley for Senate communications director. “While Shelley Berkley and Republican Governor Brian Sandoval are working to make Nevada the clean energy jobs capital of America, Senator Heller is cheering the fact that hundreds of Nevadans have just lost their jobs because he thinks it will help his political campaign. However, Heller’s rooting for failure should come as no surprise to Nevada’s middle-class given his track record protecting tax breaks for corporations that ship American jobs overseas and defending China’s unfair trade policies that are cheating Nevada workers out of thousands of good paying jobs. It’s time for Heller to put Nevada first by joining Shelley Berkley and Republican Governor Sandoval to find solutions that put people back to work. Those who are unemployed deserve more from their Senator.”
The bottom line is that renewable energy — still far more expensive than fossil fuel-generated energy — is an emerging industry, and there will be plenty of failures before it’s firmly established in the market. And the idea behind Heller’s point — that subsidies in an uncertain industry carry a risk of wasting taxpayer dollars — is something that nobody should discount. Eventually, however, renewable energy will be a viable competitor to fossil fuels, and government subsidies will have paved the way. On that front, the closure of a plant such as Amonix is certainly a setback.
UPDATE: Reid, who also praised Amonix when it opened, released a statement of his own today.
“Last year, Amonix CEO Brian Robertson was tragically killed in a plane crash and unfortunately the company was unable to recover from this difficult time. Some people will be tempted to use today’s unfortunate news for political gain. But I am hopeful that the bipartisan support for this project and the public-private partnership that helped make this and many other projects possible will not be degraded by dirty energy supporters for their own profit or political gain. The clean energy sector is too important to Nevada’s future and I hope that those that publicly acknowledge this will continue to strengthen the bipartisan support for renewable energy programs and incentives that exists in Nevada.”