Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Residential rooftop solar installers in Las Vegas are suffering whiplash! The National Clean Energy Summit convened Aug. 24 in Las Vegas and highlighted the wonderful, abundant solar resource we have and the promising future it presents. At the same time, a previously legislated cap was reached for the amount of residential NV Energy can approve. This signaled the end of residential solar installers’ businesses.
NV Energy, while promoting rooftop solar, announced that it would be 3 percent of its renewable energy portfolio. Supporters first considered that a beginning goal but then realized it was a limit on the amount of new residential rooftop solar allowed.
The Public Utilities Commission met Aug. 26 and decided that residential solar could be installed at the same rate structure until the end of 2015, when the Nevada Legislature has required that a new rate schedule be established. That very welcome decision preserved 6,000 existing local jobs.
During the summit, we heard from national renewable energy experts, policymakers, and people devoted to innovation and new technology. They described new, creative opportunities for solar energy that were, until recently, unaffordable and unimaginable. President Barack Obama pointed out to the audience what an amazing position Nevada is in: It has the most abundant amount of sun in the country coupled with a new battery research and development center. The combination of solar power generation and battery technology for energy storage is a global game changer.
My work for the past 30 years has been to keep high-level nuclear waste out of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. I have been asked repeatedly how I thought the lights would stay on in this country without nuclear power. I told people Nevada could be a solar energy exporter, and I got smirks.
Well, here we are.
The sun is a great resource, and it is also the cause of peak power needs in the summer. We now have operating centralized solar plants. With the proper rate structure and financing, residents can purchase systems for their homes and we can vastly increase the number of solar residential rooftops. This will smooth out the very expensive peaks that used to threaten brownouts and eliminate the foreseeable need for any new, expensive generating plants.
Between now and the end of the year, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada will determine a rate structure to be applied to residential solar customers. Currently, most solar homes have net metering, which means the power they produce is credited against the power they use. If they return more than they use in a month, they get a credit and the extra power is fed to nearby homes. Their credit is saved for when they need it. If they produce less than their need, they are charged for anything over the amount of credit they have.
By Dec. 31, the PUC will determine if the net metering rate is fair for both the customers and the utility. The commission also may consider a value of solar tariff, which would set a rate for solar homeowners that reflects the utility and societal cost savings and value provided by residential rooftop solar.
To ensure the rate is fair, many factors must be considered in determining the value solar installations provide to the utility: reducing pollution, less transmission cost, no need for new power plants, maximum production during peak demand, grid resiliency and no cost for mining or disposal of waste (such as coal and nuclear), just to name a few.
We need the PUC and NV Energy to work for the ratepayers. Let’s have Nevada take and preserve the top spot on a good list: most production and use of renewable energy. My house has rooftop solar because my family wants our bills to be low when we are on a fixed income, we want to support a local industry, and we want and need to do our part for the global environment.
Judy Treichel is executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force and a renewable-energy advocate.