The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) today unanimously approved two rulings that advocates say will help clear the way for rooftop and utility-scale solar development in NV Energy’s Sierra Pacific Power Company service territory of Northern Nevada. Earthjustice and Vote Solar, non-profit organizations active in both dockets, applauded the progress and encouraged Nevada’s leaders to establish a long-term plan for expanding solar opportunity once and for all.
First, as part of the rate case, the PUCN ruled that “the policy of the state of Nevada clearly supports the development and growth of diverse forms of solar and renewable energy as a priority,” including rooftop solar. Reversing a decision from last year, which the Commission recognized that its previous order “all but crushed the rooftop solar industry in Northern Nevada,” today’s decision finds that an additional 6 megawatts of rooftop solar beginning on January 1, 2017, is in the public interest and left open a possible extension in the future. The decision also calls for a collaborative approach to unlock the full benefit of solar. While it does not set a long-term plan for solar customers, this decision clears the way for continued rooftop solar investment in the short-term and explicitly departs from the PUCN’s late 2015 decision to gut net metering, which crippled the state’s once-thriving solar industry. Nevada Power is expected to address net metering for Southern Nevada customers in its June 2017 rate case.
“The Commission took a small but important step toward re-aligning rates with the goals that state policymakers and the people of Nevada share: to see more homegrown solar powering their communities and their economy,” said Jessica Scott, Regional Director, Interior West for Vote Solar. "Today’s votes signal that Nevada is ready to lead on solar once again, and we look forward to continuing to work with regulators and lawmakers to chart that strong long-term path forward.”
The PUCN also approved the utility’s integrated resource plan that improves contract terms for new, larger-scale solar power plants to provide reliable, cost-effective electricity in northern Nevada. Specifically, the Commission required SPPC to offer to buy clean power generated by solar based on the savings to ratepayers of not building and running more expensive fossil fueled generation. The PUCN also required that contracts for clean energy be for 25 years, rather that the 10 years the utility requested. Additional hearings may be held to set the specific price for clean energy purchased from large solar plants, but the PUCN clearly rejected the utility’s proposal to offer prices that would have discouraged additional solar.
“Today the PUCN affirmed that solar power is ready to be a significant, competitive energy resource for the people of Nevada—and that the utility has once again underestimated and undervalued this plentiful renewable resource,” said David Bender, Clean Energy attorney at Earthjustice. “Clearing the way for investment in solar power of all sizes, whether on rooftops or in utility-scale plants, builds healthier communities, creates good local jobs, and helps make Nevada the clean energy leader it should be.”