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Nevada is the 3rd sunniest state. Why don't we have more community solar?

Phil Snow, of Power Shift Solar, installs a solar panel at a home Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer
Phil Snow, of Power Shift Solar, installs a solar panel at a home Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Nevada’s sunny, warm weather has helped it become one of the fastest-growing states in the country. More than three million people now call it home. That means tens of thousands of houses, apartment buildings, and business rooftops can generate solar energy. So, it begs the question, why aren’t we seeing more small-scale solar development?

The state does have a program. In 2019, state lawmakers approved a law that would allow households and businesses to buy into local, shared solar-producing facilities and, in turn, receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.

“There are a lot of people across the state, renters, business owners, low-income residents who have interest in utilizing solar, but don't have the ability to install solar arrays either on their home, their apartment, their business,” said Amy Alonzo, Energy and Environmental Reporter for The Nevada Independent.

Alonzo recently wrote a report detailing efforts to build more community solar sites in the state. The program is housed under NV Energy, the state’s largest utility. Under their leadership, only three small-scale solar sites have been developed – two in Las Vegas and one in Reno. State law requires the power company to develop between six and twenty sites statewide.

For some state leaders, the utility’s construction pace is unacceptable.

“They called their efforts lackluster,” said Alonzo. Other people I've spoken with for my story have called them obstructionists to create a true community solar program. In a call with NV Energy's leadership team, they felt like they were moving the project forward and putting in a solid effort. So, it goes back to whether three is a good number, or does it leave room for improvement?”

NV Energy declined to be interviewed for this State of Nevada segment. Still, it said in a statement that the company plans to reopen applications for new community solar sites in May. As Alonzo eludes, any efforts to increase access to more renewable energy will help the company reach Nevada’s goal of getting 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. However, it will take time.

“There is a huge push for renewable energy development in the state, and it's an interesting struggle to find out where and how to balance environmental concerns," she said. "So, it's not as easy as just building renewables. It's a very slow process and involves a lot of permitting through the federal government, which can take quite a long time, even without lawsuits.”

Nevada is the only state in the country that produced lithium and it has the largest known lithium clay deposit in the world, according to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

Guests: Amy Alonzo, environment and energy reporter, The Nevada Independent; Mason Voehl, executive director, Amargosa Conservancy; Caleb Cage, executive director, Nevada Battery Coalition; Scott King, reporter, Sierra Nevada Ally

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.