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Desert Companion

Dawn of a Renewable Day

What will the recently signed energy bill mean for customers?

On Earth Day, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill into law making Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) 50 percent by the year 2030. Basically, that means that 11 years from now, half of the state’s power has to come from solar, wind, geothermal, and other non-fossil fuel sources. This will happen through a complicated system of credits that can be carried over and swapped on a public marketplace.

Score one for global-warming warriors. But how about your average voters (who approved a ballot initiative to do essentially the same thing last fall)? What does this mean for them? Can they elect to get their power from solar rather than natural gas? Will they still get credited for the excess power produced on their roofs? And — the all-important question — will their bills go up?

No one knows the answers better than the bill’s author, Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), who, before being elected, spent two decades in the energy business and was one of the state’s solar pioneers. Here’s what Brooks had to say.

 

What’s the upshot for consumers?

Besides the environmental benefits, and the climate benefits of using more renewable energy, there are also financial benefits associated with it. When you get into long-term renewable energy contracts, you’re fixing the price of that energy for the entire life of that contract. These contracts are 25, 30 years long, and they’re not subject to the volatility of markets — like natural gas, which is the majority of our energy purchased today — and you’re taking advantage of the cost of renewable energy today, when we have good tax credits, low costs, and an abundant resource for the life of the system.

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It will also create jobs as the utility and others ramp up renewable production. And all those jobs created have a multiplier effect for the entire economy, including ratepayers.

 

How will it affect people’s power bills?

The cost of renewable energy is not a premium by any measure. The cost now is the lowest of any energy in the country, and some of the deals that NV Energy is signing for renewable energy, specifically solar, have the lowest costs in the country.

 

So the cost of building new renewable power plants won’t be passed on to ratepayers?

There are a lot of factors that go into it, but most capital costs will be paid by third-party developers with whom NV Energy enters into a long-term contract to buy the energy they produce. But at any rate, NV Energy has the ability to build plants and absorb costs into its rate base, and they did that with coal, transmission lines, natural gas plants, and there’s nothing in the model we’ve seen that would make the cost of energy go up.

 

So, if a customer wants to completely opt out of fossil fuels, can she?

The utility has a Green Energy Choice program for Northern Nevadans, where they can buy just renewable energy. The RPS bill, along with another I sponsored, SB300, would enable the Public Utilities Commission to come up with alternative methods of rate-making. So, 100 percent renewable energy for customers is one of the many options that could be available.

 

How will the net metering program for rooftop solar customers be affected, if at all?

The current program will remain in place, and I think it will thrive, because it will help the utility meet their RPS goals and the entire state meet its carbon reduction goals.

 

So this doesn’t portend the death of distributed generation?

No, on the contrary, the RPS helps encourage customer-owned rooftop solar.

 

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