This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a regional collaboration of NPR stations, and Climate Central, a nonadvocacy science and news group. It is republished with permission.
In northern Nevada, east of Reno, a mountainous desert unfolds like a pop-up book. Wild horses on hillsides stand still as toys. Green-grey sagebrush paints the sandy land, which is baking under the summer sun.
On a 10-acre slice of this desert, people are working to turn this sunshine into paychecks. As society phases out fossil fuels and builds huge new solar energy plants, this region is grabbing a share of that green gold rush by retraining workers for work that is spreading across the West.
At this training center for the Reno branch of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Francisco Valenzuela uses a wrench to secure brackets to a long steel tube on posts about four feet off the ground. What looks like the start of a giant erector set is the support structure common on large-scale solar farms.