Wednesday, July 22, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Rooftop solar power is a growing success story in Nevada: creating jobs and economic opportunity, lowering utility bills and democratizing our energy system one roof at a time. It’s so popular, in fact, that Nevada will bump up against an arbitrary cap on rooftop solar as early as August. That would stop solar growth in its tracks, leaving 6,000 jobs in the balance. As a national Hispanic organization representing thousands of politically engaged Nevadans, Presente.org sees this looming cap as an opportunity for our state’s leaders to stand up for our clean energy future.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) can take action to keep rooftop solar growing. They can allow the solar net metering program to continue until the commission puts a new program in place. Net metering is a critical policy for solar growth, and the PUC is in the process of developing its new program. Until then, why allow massive industry disruption and layoffs of thousands of Nevadans?
Under Sandoval’s leadership, Nevada is the No. 1 state in the country in solar jobs per capita and harnesses enough homegrown sunshine to power 120,000 homes. Because of this success, fast-growing solar companies are investing millions of energy dollars into our communities. This thriving new energy economy supports more than 6,000 workers, many of whom are Hispanics. And, during a time of intense drought, solar saves water. While coal and natural gas consume and pollute enormous quantities of water, solar requires practically none. That’s going to be a crucial fact in the years to come.
Meanwhile, traditional power interests that view customer-generated solar as competition to their old way of business are working desperately to keep to the arbitrary rooftop solar cap in place. NV Energy and its parent corporation, Berkshire Hathaway, have been lobbying to end solar net metering.
The truth is, maintaining the fossil fuel status quo has tremendous consequences for the health and well-being of our communities. Rooftop solar helps reduce the need for expensive, polluting fossil fuel infrastructure. This pollution reduction is particularly important for our communities of color who have long borne a large share of the public health burden of dirty energy and who will be especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change if we continue our dependence on fossil fuels.
What’s more, a study from utility regulators at the PUC confirmed that the benefits of net-metered solar systems installed from 2014 to 2016 will outweigh costs by $174 million. In other words, rooftop solar saves all Nevada ratepayers millions of dollars, even before you factor in the economic and health benefits of improved air quality from offsetting fossil fuel combustion.
All of this raises the question: Why, other than protecting the profits of these monopoly utilities, would we want to restrict solar progress?
A cleaner, more equitable approach to energy will be achieved by continuing to find ways to expand solar access, not by weakening effective and successful programs such as net metering simply because utilities oppose competition. Presente urges Gov. Sandoval and his commission to let solar net metering continue so that more communities of color like ours can participate in and benefit from Nevada’s growing clean energy economy.
Arturo Carmona is executive director of Presente.org, the largest national Hispanic online organization advancing social justice with technology, media and culture.