Lake Tahoe could be on the verge of an emerging green technology sector, economists say |

Lake Tahoe could be on the verge of an emerging green technology sector, economists say

Matthew Renda
Chris Talbot / Provided to the TribuneThe Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences in Incline Village is one of the few buildings in the basin to have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification. Economists think a green building movement in Tahoe could help

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. -The Lake Tahoe Basin could position itself to be at the forefront of the emerging green building and environmental innovation sectors, economists believe.

Green building and environmental innovation is one of three emerging economic sectors capable of igniting Tahoe’s smoldering economy, according to Applied Development Economics, a Sacramento-based economic development firm in charge of spearheading the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan. The two others include health and wellness and geotourism.

After presenting the draft prosperity plan in mid-July, ADE continues to collect input from community residents, business owners and government representatives in preparation for a presentation to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in September. The presentation was originally scheduled for the TRPA meeting in August, but it has been pushed back a month.

Implementation of the final action plan will follow in October.

Green building and environmental innovation incorporates many facets of sustainability-oriented business, said Trish Kelly of ADE.

The environmental innovation cluster could encompass three segments, Kelly said: built environment, natural environment and green business operations.

Built environment includes the redevelopment and retrofitting of existing residential, commercial and government buildings. Natural Environment includes research on natural resources, restoration, management and improvement of environmental outcomes. Green business operations touches on recycling, composting, energy efficiencies and sustainability business practices.

Retrofitting existing homes, offices, hotels and government buildings will create jobs and help many out-of-work contractors and tradespeople. The housing bust, which began in 2006 and picked up steam later, left many in the construction sector unemployed, Kelly said.

“There is an endless amount of work in retrofitting old buildings,” said Eli Meyer of the Sierra Green Building Association. “Primarily, the sector will provide jobs to laborers, who have struggled to find work since the new home market has atrophied.”

Energy auditors, landscapers, companies that transform recyclable substances into building materials, and sustainable lighting specialists are encompassed in the sector as well, Kelly said.

“All of these job are place-based,” Kelly said. “You can’t export trade jobs outside of the basin.”

Related businesses like consulting or training firms could appear around the green redevelopment sector, Kelly said.

Large projects such as Boulder Bay, a proposed green redevelopment project for the Tahoe Biltmore Casino, could set the standard for similar projects in the basin and beyond, Kelly said. Boulder Bay hopes to introduce higher heating and lighting efficiencies while molding the landscape with an eye toward curtailing run-off.

“Boulder Bay could be a prototype for an energy-efficient building in an Alpine environment,” Kelly said.

With its population of researchers and scientists, the Lake Tahoe Basin could become a center for environmental research and development, Kelly said.

“With the scientists working on environmental issues and studying snow, water quality (and) resource management, workers in the basin could create real-world solutions which will be utilized throughout the world.”

Smaller local environmental firms, which have been growing steadily over the past decade, are also included in natural resources segment of the environmental innovation cluster, according to Kelly.

The cottage industries could gain traction in light of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s recent announcement they will outsource many of the scientific assessment projects after laying off several agency scientists.

There is a high demand for updated accurate scientific data regarding the vast and diverse basin ecology, according to Kelly, which will continue to increase as the basin becomes a center for environmental research.

Another idea proposed by the prosperity plan, is to build a Alpine Research Center capable of housing a full roster of scientists and researchers that could analyze and track the unique Lake Tahoe environment.

Businesses that provide services relating to composting and recycling stand to grow in the near future, according to Kelly.

Whether its transportation of compostable or recyclable materials, providing the facilities to house and sort the products, or transforming the substances into usable products, there is enormous room for growth and new companies, Kelly said.

Kelly points to preliminary plan to build a biomass plant in the basin as an indication that renewable energy, while nascent at this juncture, could grow in the future providing job growth, economic vitality and environmental gain.

“Innovation creates wealth,” said Kelly. “It’s not necessary to build a lot of physical environment to house these industries. It’s ideas that translate into products and services. You don’t need a big industrial park – just good ideas.”

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