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After Solar Decision, What's Next For Nevada's Renewable Energy

It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster year for rooftop solar in Nevada.

Last week, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved a stipulation that will allow more favorable rates for residents that already own a rooftop solar system. 

It reverses a highly controversial decision the PUC made in December, which tacked on fees and removed net metering, which is money solar customers received for returning extra power back to the grid, for home and commercial solar systems.

So what does the future of solar and renewable energy in the state look like? 

Chandler Sherman is the deputy campaign manager for Bring Back Solar Alliance. She said the decision applies to rooftop solar customers who signed up before the end of last year and the agreement will last for 20 years.

“This is a huge victory not just for those 32,000 who invested in rooftop solar but for all Nevadans and Americans who expect that when you invest in rooftop solar you can have those investments protected,” he said.

Travis Miller is a project manager for Sun Works, a rooftop solar company. He said the new decision will help current customers, but not new customers.

“It doesn’t help us moving forward with new customers, that’s for sure,” he said, “Now, with the 20 years, it does give the vast majority of existing customers an opportunity to recoup  a return on an investment.”

Support comes from

Kevin Geraghty, senior vice president of energy supply with NV Energy, said the company supported the effort to grandfather in rooftop solar customers. The power companies' biggest problem with rooftop solar is what it calls the 'cost shift,' which is the shifting of energy costs from solar users to non-solar users.

“In balance, I think the decision on changing net metering in Nevada is a good one for all customers not just those customers looking to participate in private generation,” he said.

The idea of cost shifting is something the solar industry disputes. Sherman said cost shifting will be just one of the issues the energy task force appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval will tackle. 

The task force will try to get a full picture of the costs and benefits of solar power. It will then provide recommendations that lawmakers can use to craft new bills for the 2017 Legislature.

Sherman believes that next step should include both rooftop solar and universal-scale solar, which means large scale solar power plants. 

“We have here in Nevada an incredible solar resource and we should harnessing it through large-scale solar plants through letting residential solar projects go forward, letting consumers have the choice of affordable solar energy, making that investment themselves,” she said.

Geraghty agreed that large-solar projects are the way of the future for renewable energy, but until natural gas prices climb solar still won't be competitive. 

"Our strategy really is to deliver the lowest cost power to our customers, keeping our rates flat or declining for an extended period of time,” he said.

Guests

Chandler Sherman, deputy campaign manager, Bring Back Solar Alliance; Travis Miller, project manager, Sun Works; Kevin Geraghty, senior vice president of energy supply, NV Energy