Nev. makes its claim to be America’s green leader

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 8, 2017

Many states make claim to the title of America’s clean energy leader. Few states have a case like Nevada.

Silver State lawmakers passed 11 energy bills before the clock ran out on the legislative session in Carson City on Monday. Among the approved measures: a plan to restore net metering for solar panel-owning homeowners, a proposal to boost the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 40 percent by 2030 and a requirement that state regulators consider the costs of carbon dioxide emissions when reviewing long-term utility plans.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has already approved six of the proposals and has said he intends to sign the net-metering bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and attracted two “no” votes in the General Assembly.

The big question now is whether he will sign off on an increase in the renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Roughly 13.5 percent of Nevada’s power comes from renewables today, while the current standard requires that 25 percent of the state’s power generation come from sources like wind and solar by 2025.

Greens are clamoring for the governor to add his signature to the RPS, saying it would bring new investment to a state. But privately, they say the session will be a success even if he doesn’t.

“I think overall, from a policy perspective, Nevada has taken a step that has probably outpaced any state in the country in the last year,” said J.R. Tolbert, vice president of state policy at Advanced Energy Economy, a green business group. “The Legislature has looked like the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs here. If he [Sandoval] doesn’t sign the RPS, they’ve lost a game, but not the series.”

The Warriors have yet to lose a game in this year’s NBA’s playoffs. Basketball references aside, the deluge of clean energy legislation marks a dramatic swing for Nevada. At the end of 2015, state regulators did away with the credits residential solar owners receive for sending power back to the grid.

Sunrun, Tesla laud net-metering bill

The decision prompted residential solar installers like Sunrun Inc. and Telsa Inc., then operating as SolarCity Corp., to close up shop and provoked a widespread public backlash. Sandoval overhauled the Public Utilities Commission, which handed down the decision. When more than 70 percent of voters backed a ballot measure to deregulate the state’s power market in November, it was widely interpreted as a rebuke of NV Energy, the state’s sole investor-owned utility.

Yesterday, Tesla and Sunrun said they would resume business in Nevada.

“I think the Legislature showed strong commitment to making clean energy a priority for the state,” said Alex McDonough, Sunrun’s vice president of public policy. He called the net-metering bill a compromise that created a “sustainable framework” for residential solar in the state.

A Tesla spokesman said, “This legislation, which is supported by businesses and consumers alike, will not only bring back solar energy to Nevada and enable the industry to innovate and grow sustainably, it will create thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state.”

Under the bill, new residential panel owners would receive 95 percent of the retail rate of electricity for surplus power sent back to the grid. That rate would fall gradually for every additional 80 megawatts of residential solar installed before reaching a floor of 75 percent. Nevada currently has 230 MW of installed residential solar.

The passage of the net-metering bill has overshadowed a series of other measures that would likely garner significant attention elsewhere. A bill signed by Sandoval last week directs utilities to plan for the expansion of electric vehicles and related infrastructure.

The measure marks an important expansion of transportation electrification beyond traditional West Coast markets, said Max Baumhefner, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The state does not have a quota for electric vehicle sales, unlike California and Oregon.

GOP-led states joining the green race

“It makes a lot of sense to both decarbonize the grid and use it to decarbonize our cars, trucks and buses, while at the same time using those batteries in those vehicles to help support the grid,” Baumhefner said. “It was timely for them to move forward on both fronts.”

Lawmakers also passed a series of bills designed to clearly outline the state’s priorities for the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the power sector. The utility planning legislation signed by Sandoval requires the PUC to reduce consumers’ risk to fossil fuel price spikes and account for the costs of carbon emissions. Other bills direct the Public Utilities Commission to study opportunities for energy storage and establish annual energy efficiency targets.

“This session was about sending a message about the state’s priority in energy,” said Jennifer Taylor, a state policy adviser with the Clean Energy Project. “If you take this entire suite of policies together, what it says is Nevada has a commitment to the core values to the companies we want to attract to this state.”

Other states have taken steps to green their economies in recent months, including Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich (R) beat back a plan to eliminate the state’s renewable portfolio standard, said Advanced Energy Economy’s Tolbert. That all those states are led by Republican governors is even more notable, he added.

But even by those standards, Nevada has gone further than its peers, Tolbert said. “There aren’t many sessions I’ve been around that have been quite this aggressive,” he said.

Reporter Camille von Kaenel contributed.