Sunday, March 20, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Nevada lawmakers were wondering last month whether to kill Gov. Brian Sandoval’s 5-year-old New Energy Industry Task Force, and we are certainly grateful that his office said, Hey, not so fast.
Indeed, as we have editorialized over and over, never has there been a more important time for the governor to step up and, in a display of bold leadership, help take Nevada into a new era of energy production, one that moves beyond fossil fuels and turns enthusiastically toward renewable sources of power.
Fortunately, Sandoval is reconvening the task force Tuesday with renewed instructions to “examine, review and provide policy recommendations on several existing and emerging issues related to new and renewable energy.” They include modernizing the power grid and working out a fair system to accommodate homeowners who want to use rooftop photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity for themselves and their neighbors.
It is with great hope and anticipation that we’ll be watching what the governor’s task force discusses and what recommendations it sends to the 2017 Legislature, which gathers in 11 months.
Nevada was already heading in the right direction, thanks to significant reductions in the cost of solar panels and financial incentives from the government. More than 17,000 Nevada homeowners arranged with private companies to put solar panels on their rooftops, for purchase or lease. They expected to help the environment, save on energy costs and release any excess electricity onto NV Energy’s power grid — when there was the greatest demand for power, sparing the utility from having to buy electricity from commercial sources when it is most expensive. Homeowners expected to get credit for that electricity when they needed that power at night as part of a billing system known as net metering.
The 2015 Legislature instructed the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to decide whether that arrangement was fair, and the PUC concluded that solar users were benefiting economically at the expense of traditional power consumers. So the PUC altered the rates in a way that has made it financially unfeasible for Nevadans to tap solar power — a cruel irony in a state awash in sunlight.
Nevada went from being on the brink of a new era of clean, renewable energy (not to mention the introduction to the state of a new technology industry) to a state the private solar industry has fled in favor of other, more welcoming states. That’s why the importance of this task force coming up with a plan that will take Nevada into the future cannot be overstated.
Sandoval can brag that Nevada is a leading state in the use of solar power, thanks to NV Energy’s efforts to build solar-based facilities. But the governor has generally stood along the sidelines while the Legislature, NV Energy and the PUC have essentially squelched any chance, for now, of individual Nevadans playing an important role in our power production. Granted, weaving individual energy producers into the grid is a complicated exercise, but it can be done, as is being proved in New York and elsewhere.
If this task force does its job, it will come up with a comprehensive and creative way for utilities and individual power producers to coexist in an increasingly renewable-energy world — and to do it so successfully that it will enable Nevada to commercially export electricity as a home-grown commodity to utilities in other states. It would be terrific if the task force would tell the Legislature that Nevadans should turn first to energy efficiencies, and then renewable energy sources, before turning to fossil fuels — and for the Legislature to declare it as law.
Rose McKinney James, a longtime clean-energy advocate and former member of the PUC, says she is hopeful that the task force will step up and meet its potential in leading an open discussion, with public engagement, in establishing priorities in the state’s energy policy and resolving, once and for all, such issues as net metering.
“As long as the process is allowed to move forward in a constructive way, we should see constructive results,” she says. “If there are disruptions and efforts to politicize it, this forum could end up being a lost opportunity. I’m hoping that everyone takes advantage of this chance to do something constructive, to delve into underlying policies that are necessary for us to move forward, and to lay a foundation to help the Legislature.”
Until now, it seems everyone has pointed the finger at someone else in our inability to agree on our energy future. No one has stepped up and taken ownership of this challenge. We expect this to change beginning Tuesday.