Clean energy bills light up Nevada

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nevada is perhaps best known in energy quarters for axing the credits paid to solar-panel-owning residents who send electricity back to the grid. But this year, lawmakers in Carson City have busied themselves with nothing short of a major overhaul of the state’s power market.

A bill calling on the Silver State to increase its renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 passed the General Assembly by a wide margin last week. A measure aimed at directing savings from energy efficiency to low-income communities passed the Assembly and Senate unanimously. And the Senate unanimously approved a bill calling on Nevada regulators to establish annual energy efficiency goals.

Most notably, perhaps, the Assembly approved by a 38-2 margin a bill to restore net metering, the credits paid to solar homeowners for their surplus power.

“Right now, the people of Nevada overwhelmingly support clean energy,” said Andy Maggi, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League. “What this means for Nevada is legislators are hearing that.”

The deluge of energy legislation follows the Democratic takeover of the General Assembly and Senate in November and the overwhelming passage of a ballot initiative designed to deregulate the state’s power market. The measure was widely viewed as a rebuke of NV Energy Inc., the state’s sole investor-owned utility, which lobbied hard to do away with net metering.

The renewable portfolio standard still faces an uphill climb. Nevada’s largest casinos, which dominate state politics, are split over the question of boosting the renewable portfolio standard. MGM Resorts favors the legislation; the Nevada Resort Association, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands do not.

NV Energy is officially neutral on the matter but has expressed concerns about the significant ramp-up in renewable production required under the legislation. The state’s present renewable portfolio standard requires that 25 percent of all electricity be generated by sources like solar, geothermal and wind by 2025.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who has championed renewables, has largely remained silent. It remains unclear whether he would sign the bill if it emerges from the Senate.

Net metering supporters are more optimistic. The measure, which would allow residents to collect 95 percent of the retail rate of electricity for power they send back to the grid, received broad Republican support in the Assembly.

The bill calls for the rate paid to residential solar owners to decline as more homeowners add panels to their roofs. The rate would fall to 90 percent if residential solar hits 6 to 8 percent of the state’s historical peak load, falling to 85 percent at 8 to 10 percent of the market and 80 percent at 10 percent of the load.

Solar advocates say it would revive the state’s residential solar market, which dried up after Nevada regulators banished net metering in late 2015.

“This bill could grow our economy while moving us closer to a cleaner, more secure energy future,” said Louise Helton, founder of 1 Sun Solar Cos. in Las Vegas.