Energy News: Solar Legislation
Ballot Measure Gives Voters Say On Whether Utilities Use More Renewable Power
By Mary Manning
As Nevada voters face a chance to change the state’s constitution in November to allow more flexibility in where homeowners and businesses can purchase electricity, many questions remain about the consequences in a volatile political climate.
The Energy Choice Initiative — Question 3 — would allow consumers a choice of sources to provide them with electricity and boost Nevada’s nascent clean energy industry, which nearly faded when the state’s Public Utilities Commission in 2015 applied punitive costs to both existing solar users and potential new solar customers making solar energy unaffordable to most customers.
In June 2017 the Nevada Legislature passed and Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bipartisan measure to reinstate fair compensation for homeowners who invest in new residential rooftop solar energy systems.
In 2016 only 287 applications were filed for new residential rooftop solar systems statewide. Solar companies fled the Silver State until the Legislature and the governor signed Assembly Bill 405 into law. That boosted rooftop solar applications to 3,300 in 2017 from homeowners, schools, churches and businesses.
Nevada’s efforts to promote abundant sunshine, wind and geothermal energy sources could pay off for everyone in both clean energy and energy independence.
Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei both supported the state’s efforts to expand clean energy production in the federal Energy Department’s funding bill.
Yet President Donald Trump’s tariffs imposed on goods produced in foreign countries are striking a blow to the solar industry and its prospects. Solar panel makers create rooftop cells in Malaysia, closer to source materials, thus driving down costs. The 30 percent tariffs make it more expensive for cities such as Las Vegas and Reno to promote solar power as a way to curb carbon pollution from fossil fuels. Solar experts predict an 11 percent drop in new projects.
Before the tariffs solar industrial leaders expected to have the capacity to power 13.7 million homes by 2022 nationwide.
Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Nevada Democrat, and Reps Mark Sanford and Ralph Norman, both Republicans from South Carolina, back a bill to repeal those tariffs, citing the benefits of clean energy and jobs. In Nevada 6,300 new solar jobs have been created.
Solar power generates roughly 2 percent of the nation’s electricity and has become popular with Democrats and Republicans.
Nevada’s Energy Choice Initiative ballot question is supported by major resort companies. NV Energy supplies the bulk of power from fossil fuels and solar, wind and geothermal. Berkshire Hathaway owns NV Energy with its CEO Warren Buffet its larges shareholder.
Nevada regulators found that electricity customers will see higher monthly electric bills for at least 10 years if Question 3 becomes part of the state’s constitution. The Public Utilities Commission report says that Nevadans will pay between $4 billion and $6 billion for stranded assets such as coal plants that NV Energy would have to divest.
Supporters of the ballot initiative released a study of their own that Question 3 would lower customer costs by an $11 decrease per month as a result of the open and competitive market that the constitutional change would bring.
The Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice heard the report prepared by Garett Group LLC. But a lone voice questioned the thrust of Garrett’s report.
“There are a lot of assumptions made in here,” Assemblyman Chris Brooks of Las Vegas told the committee.
The Garrett report sees NV Energy assets not as stranded costs, but as stranded benefits that would go toward reducing energy bills,
The ballot initiative would increase the amount of renewable energy utilities produce from 25 percent in 2020 to 50 percent in 2030.
Some of Nevada’s largest businesses, such as MGM and Apple, are already boosting their solar investments because of increasing competition from states like neighbor California.
California, a leader and trendsetter in clean energy became the first state to require all new homes to have solar power. That requirement becomes effective in two years. The measure could increase new home costs by $7,000 to $10,000 per house, but in the long run customers’ energy bills are expected to drop. And California also requires 50 percent of energy production from clean energy sources by 2030.