Las Vegas Sun

July 20, 2019

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Time for Sandoval to put solar energy on his can-do agenda

Oh, Gov. Brian Sandoval, the mixed messages you send.

We shall reform K-12 education, you said, with a bold funding plan. And so it was done, as you rallied the 2015 Legislature to earmark more than $1 billion for the schooling of our children.

We shall entice the cutting-edge electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc., you said, to build a huge lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant outside Reno. And so it was done, and already the Gigafactory is producing batteries, including ones to store excess electricity generated by rooftop photovoltaic solar panels.

We shall entice China’s premier technology entrepreneur to build his electric-car factory in North Las Vegas, you said, and pave the way with important infrastructure improvements to Apex Industrial Park so other companies can follow suit and further expand the state’s economic diversity. So it was done, and work has begun on the site, promising hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits to the region.

We shall explore the promise of solar power, you said, so you sought a grant from the Energy Department in 2011 to help launch the Nevada Rooftop Solar Initiative. And so it was done, with the feds awarding Nevada $765,000 to promote rooftop solar installations on at least 5 percent of Nevada’s residences and businesses by 2020.

And so, with the price of solar panels plummeting and utility providers and customers from coast to coast working to develop solar power, we thought you would weigh in, too. But of all times, you’ve chosen now to be silent and so, in Nevada, it’s not being done.

So, Gov. Sandoval, you with the momentum and the vision, we could use some help on this one.

When it comes to the advent of rooftop solar panels, NV Energy is being a recalcitrant obstructionist. And no wonder, really, because with the utility’s guaranteed 10 percent profit margin based primarily on new power plants, its motto might as well be, “Solar? What’s in it for us?” The utility seems downright annoyed that some 17,000 Nevada homeowners already have bought or leased rooftop solar panels. They’re now facing unexpected charges and a recalculated, and poorer, return on investment.

And you’re just shrugging, Governor. You say it’s not your job to influence the state’s Public Utilities Commission — made up of your appointees — but in your absence, it is bending to the loudest voice it hears — NV Energy’s. We don’t want to believe you’re stifling yourself to NV Energy’s benefit because two of your closest advisers — who also are NV Energy lobbyists — are whispering in your ear. Or because NV Energy has donated to your political campaigns. Of course it has; that’s what big business does.

Maybe rooftop solar panels can’t yet provide electricity cheaper than NV Energy can with its utility-scale solar farms — although others would rightly argue that rooftop solar has a lot going for it in terms of providing grid resiliency and cheap power at high-demand times without big capital outlays.

So why the sudden shyness, Governor, when the subject is solar energy? NV Energy and the PUC, to whom financially sticking it to solar users is great sport, need an attitude adjustment.

It is indisputable that solar energy will have a major role in electricity generation in the future, and that Nevada of all states should be aggressively working toward that reality. New York has upheaved its old-school utility system into a new model in which the major utilities only deliver the power; customers select whom to buy it from — including solar sources — or to produce their own with rooftop solar panels.

Gov. Sandoval, please seize the moment because without your leadership, the future of solar in Nevada remains unclear. Last week a petition was filed to break up the NV Energy monopoly. But such voter initiatives may trigger unintended consequences, and a legislative fix, or at least bringing innovative people to the table to develop the huge potential of rooftop solar energy, may be the more effective route for reform. This is the time that Nevada needs a visionary leader. So lead, governor. Or at a minimum, tell your chums not to get in the way. Let’s not squander our future by ignoring the sun.

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