Sunrise in Carson City
Type “energy” into the Nevada Legislature’s bill search engine and you’ll get 20 results, most related to efficiency and renewables. One bill would create a so-called “green bank” for financing small-scale clean-energy projects; another would temporarily exempt electric cars from certain sales and use taxes. But the five that the environmental community is pinning its hopes on are below. They’ve passed all their legislative hurdles so far and head into the definitive two weeks of the session on Monday, May 22.
1. AB405, the rooftop solar bill. This bill is a mashup of two previously separate ones — (1) for a solar customers’ bill of rights, originally AB405, and (2) to reinstate net metering, originally AB270. Combined, the new proposal both undoes legislation that led to the Public Utilities Commission killing the state’s net metering program in 2016 and introduces protections for people who lease and purchase renewable energy systems to generate their own electricity. Generally, the law would enshrine self-generators’ rights to connect their systems to the grid and receive fair market value for excess energy they produce; specifically, it would bring back a net metering arrangement through which the state’s sole investor-owned electric utility, NV Energy, reimburses self-generators for their excess generation at a rate of 95 percent of retail value (for now — as distributed generation surpasses milestones in the state’s overall energy production, the reimbursement rate goes down in order to protect NV Energy’s profits).
“This legislation is the product of a lot of debate and compromise,” said Louise Helton, owner of solar panel installation company 1 Sun Solar, “but we are optimistic that it will restore the rooftop-solar industry in Nevada, put solar installers back to work, and, most importantly, allow access to affordable, clean solar energy for Nevada’s homeowners and small businesses.”
2. AB206, aka the RPS bill. This one would raise the state’s renewable portfolio standard so that instead of being required to produce 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 (“25 by ’25” in shorthand), the state utility would have to produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (“50 by ’30”).
The proposal has experienced some unexpected opposition from the large-scale energy customers — Caesars, MGM, Switch, and Wynn — that applied last year to buy their power on the open market rather than from NV Energy. Dubbed “704b customers,” after the legal provision that allows 1 megawatt-plus consumers to exit the commercial service monopoly, they argue that they should be exempt from the renewable portfolio standard. This surprised some observers in the environmental community, since 704b applicants cited a desire to run their businesses on a greater percentage of renewable energy as one reason for their exit. An amended version of AB206 gives 704b customers permission to apply energy efficiency credits toward their RPS through 2025; thereafter, they and NV Energy would be held to the same 50 by ’30 standard.
3. SB150, an energy efficiency bill for utilities. Seen as the flip side of the RPS coin, this bill would require the PUC to set yearly energy-savings goals for NV Energy, and the utility to implement plans to meet those goals. Similar to AB223 (see below), it also requires that a certain percentage of funding for energy-efficiency programs be set aside for the utility’s low-income customers.
“The cheapest and cleanest energy we have is the energy we don’t use,” the Nevada Conservation League said in its endorsement of the bill, which it flagged as a top priority.
4. AB223, an energy efficiency bill for consumers. A carve-out measure, this bill would set aside a percentage of existing energy-efficiency funding for programs and services that benefit low-income households.
“What’s really exciting about this bill,” says Nevada Conservation League director Andy Maggi, “is the diverse coalition of partners that have worked on it, including the Faith Organizing Alliance, the Urban League, the Uplift Foundation, and Chispa Nevada.”
5. SB392, the solar gardens bill. Another means of making renewable energy, as well as distributed generation, available to a broader range of consumers, this bill would allow renters, homeowners, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and churches to band together to create community solar gardens on rooftops, over parking lots, and on vacant land.
“Very few states have legislation to enable solar gardens,” Maggi says. “But in the few that do, we’ve seen great examples of the positive impact on those communities, how it reduces utility bills and provides access to solar power for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that.”
Maggi stresses that most of the energy bills he’s watching have, so far, enjoyed bipartisan support. “What all this is saying to me,” he adds, “is that this is the clean energy session.”