Nevadans are green with power

If there is one thing Nevadans might have something close to a consensus about, it’s that renewable energy is our next big thing. The governor wants it, the legislature wants it, utilities are developing solar, wind, and geothermal plants, Truckee Meadows Community College and the Desert Research Institute have established programs to develop technology and train suppliers, and dozens of small-to-medium businesses have set up shop in the state to supply it. With power-hungry California to our left, Nevada has lots of energy-export potential.

And yet, small-scale solar, geothermal and wind generation languishes well below our state capacity. Nevada does have impressive large-scale projects to boast about: NVEnergy’s Solar One project is the third-largest concentrating solar generator in the world, and the Nellis Solar Star is the largest photovoltaic array in North America. Ormat has brought several geothermal energy plants online, and the three planned coal-fired plants have been cancelled. Nevada has one of the most ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standards in the United States—25 percent of our energy from renewables by 2025, and last spring the legislature passed a law supporting Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing practices.

This is good news for our carbon footprint, but what about the other promise of renewable energy—economic growth and jobs? According to Bob Tregilus, co-host of the This Week In Energy podcast, Nevada can establish better policies to promote small-scale as well as large-scale renewable energy development, leading the state to economic revival and increasing jobs in manufacturing, distribution and installation of renewable energy—wind, solar and geothermal—at the residential and small-business level.

Tregilus testified at a Public Utilities Commission of Nevada workshop last week for feed-in-tariffs, or FITs, which are a price structure that guarantees grid access and a solid return on investment for small-scale developers. FITs have been deployed successfully in countries around the world to promote renewable energy development, and in many cases regions adopting FITs have seen rapid increase in renewable energy manufacturing jobs. Tregilus has joined up with John Hadder of the Great Basin Resource Watch to advocate for FIT legislation in next year’s biennium, with the campaign “FIT4NV.”

Renewable Generations, Nevada’s incentive system for small-scale deployment, received some criticism at the workshop. Largely a tax-rebate program, Renewable Generations is responsible for less than 5 megawatts of renewable energy capacity coming online since it was launched six years ago, even though it has expanded its reach every year.

The program is complicated to navigate, has annual limits, and requires consumers to purchase their solar systems up front. At tens of thousands of dollars per system, few homeowners can afford the investment, even with the tax rebates.

The advantage of FITs, according to Tregilus, is that homeowners will be able to predict solid returns on their investment and recoup them much more quickly. Together with PACE programs, FITs policy promises to make renewable energy far more affordable to the average homeowner and small business. Furthermore, as a rate policy, it is neither a tax nor an expenditure (as is Renewable Generations), thereby stimulating energy and economic development at no cost to the taxpayer. Last year’s PACE legislation allows the creation of economic “zones” where the financing will take place. The city of Reno’s environmental manager, Jason Geddes, is implementing the code changes necessary for Reno to be designated as a PACE zone by the end of summer.

Policy bores a lot of people, but if Nevadans would really like to realize the economic turnaround of the green economy, we should pay attention. Our current legislation, despite lots of effort, still falls short of uncorking the green economic revival this state so desperately needs.