Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2019

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A composite bill friendly to solar expected today

Horsford’s plan would sweeten tax breaks, boost rooftop panels

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford is scheduled to unveil legislation that likely will shape the future of state energy policy during a Senate Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee hearing this morning.

The Legislature has since February considered several bills containing hundreds of provisions calling for changes from modest tweaks to fundamental shifts in how Nevada develops its energy infrastructure. Drawing from those proposals, Horsford, D-Las Vegas, is expected to introduce an energy plan that includes many favored by solar industry advocates.

Horsford, environmentalists and Sen. Harry Reid tout the state’s potential to become a renewable energy powerhouse, creating jobs and diversifying the economy in the bargain. But they also argue that to flourish, the industry needs a helping hand from the state.

“This is really to lay the foundation, to position Nevada as the nation’s leader on renewable energy development,” Horsford said in an interview Tuesday. “We need a state plan for how we’re going to diversify our economy from tourism and a focus on residential and commercial construction to something more sustainable, and to address our constituents’ needs as far as reducing the cost of energy.”

Horsford convened a group, including representatives of various renewable energy industries, NVEnergy and state Sens. Mike Schneider and Randolph Townsend, to draft an amended version of Senate Bill 358, which includes pieces of other Senate energy bills.

Many involved in amending the bill said they expect the legislation will continue to evolve.

Debate has raged for months over exactly how much the state should give up — and expect to get in return — to promote the development of a renewable energy industry.

Pointing to several early solar developments that hired out-of-state labor, unions have demanded that tax abatements include provisions to promote in-state jobs. The Assembly has also considered a tax on renewable energy extraction to offset any rate increases for utility ratepayers.

Previewed by the Sun on Tuesday, the amended SB358 does not include those provisions. It instead would require that renewable energy contractors make their “best efforts” to hire two-thirds of their workforce from Nevada in exchange for a 75 percent abatement in their property taxes, excluding school taxes. That’s up from the current tax abatement of 50 percent, which expires at the end of June.

Horsford said ensuring that renewable energy becomes an economic driver for the state was a “huge concern” in drafting the amendment. He relied on analysis from solar industry groups that showed the development of 2,000 megawatts of utility-size solar energy would create 6,000 jobs per year to build out, and then 1,200 permanent jobs.

The bill cannot require that workers be hired from Nevada because the industry is new and it’s uncertain whether there are enough local workers to support all the planned projects, Horsford said.

Nevada AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson disagreed. “ ‘Best efforts’ doesn’t mean anything,” Thompson said of the bill’s language.

Thousands have graduated from the electrician union’s photovoltaic solar apprenticeship, and other tradesmen could easily adapt their skills without additional training, Thompson said.

“We are facing unemployment never seen in this state when the big jobs like CityCenter end,” Thompson said. “We have qualified journeymen. I think if anybody is going to get tax abatements, there has to be strings attached.”

Thompson said he planned to attend today’s hearing, but didn’t expect to speak out forcefully on the issue. Other issues are vying for his attention right now, he said.

Assembly Democrats are considering an amendment to their key energy legislation that would not include the controversial extraction tax, and would omit a requirement in the original bill that companies receiving abatements buy products from Nevada-based manufacturers, according to people involved in the discussions. But the Assembly version is expected to be tougher on solar companies than the Senate bill, phasing out tax abatements over time and imposing tougher requirements on companies receiving the abatements.

The Senate legislation requires that 2 percent of the state’s required renewable energy allotment — 25 percent by 2025 — come from energy generated near where it’s used, as with rooftop solar panels.

The controversial provision delayed introduction of Horsford’s amendment for over a week and is expected to incite heated discussion today.

Proponents of distributed generation include unions and photovoltaic solar panel manufacturers who argue that this type of energy plan can provide a steady source of union-friendly jobs and is more environmentally friendly than utility-size projects that take up vast stretches of desert.

Opponents, including NV Energy, say they are a costly and inefficient source of renewable energy, and may place an added burden on ratepayers.

Horsford said he decided to include it after a lot of deliberation, and after reading articles about neighboring states that have required more solar panels on rooftops.

“As we promote this new green economy, our focus is on the entire opportunity and not just one segment, large solar,” Horsford said. “Is there a cost? Yes, but ultimately it’s viewed as an investment that would create choices for the consumer. These approaches are being embraced in communities in other states and I wanted to have those same opportunities available to the average homeowner or the average small-business owner to benefit here.”

Also aiming to promote small-scale solar, the amendment would change the solar incentive program from a utility-run program to a newly created renewable energy body under the Public Utilities Commission. That would address a common complaint that NV Energy has not put the attention and resources into the state-mandated incentive program and has made it too cumbersome.

An NV Energy spokesman said the utility considered the legislation a “work in progress” and would not comment further.

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