A wave of solar installations at county schools has come to a halt
Nevadans love solar power as big as the sky, so to speak, and many of us—from homeowners to Southwest Reno’s Carmelite nuns to heavy hitting newcomers like Tesla—are signing on. Net metering stirred up plenty of debate during the last legislative session, though, and now NV Energy has until July 31 to file a proposed tariff for net-metering customers.
In the meantime, solar incentives are phasing out, and installations at public buildings such as schools are grinding to a halt. Take Washoe County School District, for example. As much as WCSD benefits from its solar installations—an initiative that began in early 2008 with Gerlach High School and has grown into a setup that saves the district an estimated $900,000 a year—the last set of panels to arrive was in December, at the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology on Edison Way. Another is in the works at Stead Elementary, thanks to a pilot program for low-income campuses, but the district is otherwise at a financial standstill for renewable energy projects, with just 35 of its 93 campuses covered.
“We’re trying to figure out that next step, with the rebate program being where it is,” said Jason Geddes, WCSD’s energy conservation and sustainability program manager. “We’re looking for opportunities where we might be able to bundle it into a bigger energy efficiency project, or look at other options that are available besides the direct purchase and install … but it’s very early.”
A school bond issue wouldn’t be promising, he said, because classroom additions and renovations tend to be higher priority. Federal bonds are a possibility, though, as are power-purchase agreements that involve third-party builders and operators who qualify for the 30 percent federal tax credit expiring in December of next year—one that doesn’t apply to county schools because they’re tax-exempt.
Incentives work differently for public and private facilities, which is to say a homeowner can still get a 30 percent discount rate per watt as part of the federal program, plus a 25 cent rebate from NV Energy. A school/nonprofit or other such facility won’t get the same deal, but its rebates are almost twice as large.
NV Energy’s incentive program has run continuously since 2004, but the power company’s website shows just one low-income and/or nonprofit project completed in the last 12 months. Residential and small commercial installations are cruising right along, however, with the solar program receiving more than 2,600 applications in June, and finishing 748 projects. Both are record numbers, apparently.
Rebates are shrinking on the whole because sustainable industries are getting stronger and more mainstream, said Jesse Murray, director of renewable programs at NV Energy. That’s always been the idea, anyway.
“One argument on the side of those who don’t love the incentive is it’s a mature enough industry that it doesn’t need that incentive tax credit anymore, or as much,” he said.