With Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislature, green energy bills have received a lot more focus this year than in previous legislative sessions.
Twenty energy bills have been introduced, but the conservation community is keeping its eye on five in particular.
Desert Companion writer Heidi Kyser covered these high-profile energy bills recently, and she explains here.
The bill combines policies first outlined in two different bills. It would establish a bill of rights for rooftop solar customers, making lease- and sales-agreement terms clear and comprehensible; and it would establish a fair reimbursement for what is known as net metering. Net metering is when the power company repays solar customers for the extra power they generate and then give back to the grid.
“This is an attempt to bring that industry back, bring net metering back, and create a system for reimbursing," Kyser said.
A ruling by the Public Utilities Commission in 2016 changed how much people would get paid. That damaged the industry, Kyser said, forcing layoffs and shuttering some rooftop solar companies.
Under the bill, the rate for net metering would be set at 95 percent of the retail power rate. However, it is a tiered system so the net metering rate would decrease as more people add panels and contribute energy to the grid. Kyser said that is a way to balance out profit losses for utility companies, who say non-solar customers pay for solar customers' grid maintenance.
“This is a popular bill across the aisles because consumers want it," she said. "People want to be able to produce their own power in their homes."
“Clean energy advocates say the goal of making 25 percent of the electricity we consume in the state come from renewable [sources] by 2025 is too low. It’s not ambitious enough. We’re going to meet that easily,” Kyser said.
The bill would set the standard at 50 percent by 2030.
Many large power users, including several casino giants, are opposed to the plan. They argue that they're already paying fees and planning to use renewable sources anyway so they shouldn't have to follow the standard.
Kyser said this bill is causing a big battle in Carson City. A political action committee has formed to stop it, and on the other side, the Conservation League is rallying members to show their support and get it passed.
The big question is not whether it will pass, but whether Gov. Sandoval will sign it. Kyser said Sandoval has been "tepid" on the bill because of last year's ballot initiative, which was supposed to create energy choice in the state. Some businesses argue it is causing confusion, as both the renewable energy standards and the energy choice initiative would be moving forward at the same time.
"These are programs that people are already very familiar with," Kyser said. "So, things like putting a pool cover on, getting your windows caulked — all of those energy efficiency measures that you hear about that keep your house a tighter envelope so that cool air doesn't escape in the summer, and hot air stays in in the winter."
Under the bill, the PUC would set energy saving goals for utilities like NV Energy once a year, and NV Energy have to develop a plan for meeting those goals.
“Some people argue that this is much more important than imposing other measures. If you can just get people to save (energy) to begin with, you don’t have to worry as much about where it comes from," she said.
This bill targets low-income families. Conservationists argue that while renewable energy sources like rooftop solar are great, only a select few can afford them.
“This bill would carve out, I believe it’s 5 percent, of NV Energy’s conservation program funds for low-income families to be able to get those incentives, get those reimbursements to make their homes more efficient and consume less energy,” Kyser said.
“A community solar garden is basically a solar installation that you could put on top of a community center, a retirement home, an apartment complex or even just in a community,” Kyser said.
The solar garden bill is designed for low-income communities whose members may not have enough money individually to buy solar panels. The law would provide the regulatory structure for them to pool their money; buy a renewable installation for the community; sell excess generation to the utility; and distribute net metering and renewable energy credits to members.
People who subscribe to the community solar garden would get a reduction in their bill and money back in net metering. Several groups, including the Urban League and Faith Organization Alliance, support the measure.
Heidi Kyser, writer, Desert Companion magazine
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