By Curt R. Ledford, a Nevada-based attorney with McDonald Carano
What a ride it has been. Just three years ago, I was walking up to the hearing room of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada in Las Vegas and was greeted by vocal mob of solar supporters, dozens of news cameras and even one Hollywood star.
Unfortunately, despite the popular support, what resulted was a complete shut-down of the rooftop solar industry in Nevada. One solar customer told me that she felt like the state just pulled the solar rug out from underneath her.
But, that is Nevada’s past, not its future. Since then, this state has responded to the unified voice of clean energy supporters. In 2017, less than 2 years later, the Nevada legislature furthered a comprehensive and innovative group of new policies designed to bring solar back to the people, and to establish a path forward for storage systems and electric vehicles. Nevada is beginning to enjoy the fruit that is growing from these new initiatives.
For rooftop solar, Assembly Bill 405 established a set value for excess energy produced by rooftop solar installations. The PUC decision of 2015 was nullified and the statute that allowed it was repealed. So, what happened next?
The crews are now back on the rooftops. Driving home last week, I saw a brand-new rooftop solar installation being put up in my neighborhood.
But solar isn’t the only focus here in Nevada now; AB 405 also established time-of-use rates that are designed to incentivize solar-plus-storage installations. In response to AB 405, the Nevada PUC just recently created a host of new, and creative, TOU rates that customers can employ to realize real savings in their monthly electric bills by adding storage to their solar installation. Through technology, these customers get to enjoy solar power day and night and are compensated for the power they send back to the grid for others to use. What’s more, the utility will likely experience a decrease in their peak wholesale pricing as a result. We call this a symbiotic relationship.
Another bill, SB 145, created new incentive programs for both small and large-scale storage installations, along with a program to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Regulations that promote the use of these technologies were approved a few weeks ago by the State. And, just days ago, an order was issued in a PUC docket that sets the incentive levels for these emerging technologies. Nevada’s incumbent utilities were a big part of creating the incentive program that was put in place.
But it is not just the state and the utilities that are taking meaningful action, large users are using creative legislation and green-energy opportunities to further their own renewable initiatives as well. Two large resort companies and two large data centers all recently announced that they were sourcing their power from new PV projects located in the state–all in excess of Nevada’s renewable portfolio requirements. These organizations are voluntarily going green because it makes sense to their bottom lines. Looking back to that fateful day at the PUCN hearing room in Las Vegas, it now seems like a distant memory. In the recent words of the PUCN itself–we are moving forward.
The lessons learned here in Nevada are apparent: People want green energy; people want to use technology to reduce their energy costs; people want control of their energy destiny. A hundred years ago, the station-sourced energy structure, delivered on long lines to the populated areas, was the only way to make the electric grid work for everybody. And, rather than have numerous utility lines running through the city or competing fuel-fired generation plants sitting atop one another, the regulated monopoly was born–which made sense. But, as technology grows to change that structure, we need to be receptive. We must realize that sometimes the benefits are worth the costs of adopting and supporting these new technologies. I think that Nevada now embraces this, and we are all seeing the advantages as a result.
I have worked for a utility, and I fully understand the goal of having the cost causers be the cost payers. Providing uneven subsidies for any class of customers creates inequities. But balance is key, and fairness requires an evaluation of all the positive benefits that an emerging technology can provide. In the case of Nevada’s solar programs, the 2015 decision was not balanced. It failed to recognize many positive attributes that rooftop solar offers to customers and to the state, and it overstated the costs to the utility given such low penetration levels. All in all, we had departed from the logic behind why the program was created in the first place. But, as we now embrace the next wave of technologies – storage and electric vehicles–I am optimistic that we can bring the value of the technologies to the forefront and give the people additional options in how they can satisfy their growing energy needs.
Curt Ledford is a partner with McDonald Carano. His practice is focused on utility, administrative, corporate, cooperative and regulatory law, as well as general matters affecting energy developments, generation facilities, renewable energy and Nevada’s utilities.