Tahoe Olympics bid needs to get a green light

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If white is the color of success for the Winter Olympics, green is a close second. Green, as in the money that can be made from hosting the world’s grandest winter sports festival. And green, as in earth-friendlier energy, technology and transportation that’s needed to support such a complex event during a time of undeniable climate change. As momentum builds for the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition to make a bid for a future Olympics — as early as 2018 — organizers and supporters should be talking with the region’s growing “green industry” leadership to build a sustainable system of venues, lodging and transportation networks that would reduce the event’s impact on the sensitive Sierra and Lake Tahoe regions. A recent study by the coalition showed a slight majority of Reno-Tahoe residents — including those from Placer and Nevada counties — support bringing the Winter Olympics back to the Sierra. Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 games, and with it came a number of road projects and development that made the mountains attractive and accessible to millions of vacationers. Nearly a half-century later, with population and traffic growth, wildland fire threats and water quality on the minds of many, keeping the mountains green and Lake Tahoe blue is a top priority. Can the Olympics and Reno-Tahoe find a win-win? With vision and dedication, the Reno-Tahoe games of 2018 could be the first carbon-neutral — or closest to carbon-neutral — since the modern Olympic movement was started in 1896. The region is uniquely positioned to do so. In the past few years, the six-county Sacramento region has evolved into a clean energy corridor, and Sacramento has thrown down the challenge to overtake Chicago as the greenest metro area in the country. But actions have followed words. The Sacramento Council of Governments, which includes Placer County, has helped foster the Clean Technology Resolution to support green business development. The University of California at Davis has developed the Energy Efficiency Center to coordinate clean technology efforts at the college. These and other efforts have helped support and attract more than 55 clean energy companies and active start-ups. Investors are getting on board, too. Clean and green technology investments grew 44 percent, to $3.9 billion, in 2007 and large amounts of venture capital are waiting in the wings, according to CleanTech, a sector-tracking firm. Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, a member of the coalition to bring the games to the Reno-Tahoe area, should take a leadership role in pushing the games’ bid in the green direction, and pulling together the regional businesses, researchers and investors to develop environmentally sound housing and transportation alternatives. This would be an economic development boon, and one needed in the wake of the housing downturn. Like Pacific Power Management, firms could set up in the Auburn Airport Industrial Park, or the Sunset Industrial Area near Rocklin. Such technologies would be close to the Olympics action, but also would share job and tax benefits with the foothills communities. The signs are all around us. Going green makes sound environmental and business sense. It also could punch a ticket for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.