Former Sierra Nevada College President Ben Solomon uses solar energy at his Incline Village home.
By Nelly Steinhoff, Sage Sauerbrey and Nick Galantowicz
NV Energy is in the process of making cut backs on solar energy incentives, at the same time the overall solar movement in Nevada is growing faster than ever.
NV Energy powers an area covering 45,592 square miles and has been servicing energy to Nevadans since 1906.
Although applications to NV Energy’s Solar Generations program have grown exponentially in the last year, NV Energy is fighting to hold a cap of 3 percent on all electricity users who can receive payments for producing surplus electricity.
“They would pay us for generating hot water at the same rate they paid for electricity, which is about 10.5 or 11 cents per kilowatt hour,” said Ben Solomon, founding SNC president and solar power advocate. “They dropped the entire program.”
Solomon, who would sometimes make over $350 a year from surplus solar energy systems, is one of the many small solar operations that have been kept out of the market because of the cap. He designed and built solar and water heating systems at his private residence in Incline Village.
Solomon said NV Energy is operating a “monopoly” on alternative energy in Nevada, and he is not the only person to share that opinion.
“Their goal is to eliminate solar rooftop competition,” said Bryan Miller, co-chair of the Alliance for Solar Choice, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review. “NV Energy and its owner, Berkshire Hathaway, has been on a national agenda to eliminate solar net metering by individuals. It’s a jobs cap.”
Solar panels at former SNC President Ben Solomon’s home in Incline Village. Photo by Nick Galantowicz
The cap predominantly affects independent homeowners such as Solomon, but it is targeted at larger operations that threaten NV Energy’s stake in the solar market. Companies like American Patriot and Solar Electric will no longer be able to operate in Nevada due to the cap, a repercussion that will cost approximately 2,000 jobs. This is out of the 6,000 jobs currently tied to the solar market in Nevada, the third largest in the US.
One company, SolarCity, received a $1.2 million grant from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development to weather the cap and create 1,000 jobs in the Las Vegas area.
In spite of the cap on extra energy payments, solar is still a cost-beneficial and environmentally rewarding means of energy production for many homeowners.
According to the National Resources Defense Council’s website, “Solar panels will be cheaper and more efficient thanks to cheaper raw materials, improved production methods, more engagement from utility companies, and bold government programs like the Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative. Financial analysts and industry experts expect the cost of solar power to fall below retail electricity rates in much of the country between 2013 and 2018.”
Solar power producers can also still receive credit for the extra energy they produce. According to Bret Alexander, Co-Owner of Tahoe Solar Designs, NV Energy is required by law to keep a net-metering system which tracks the amount of solar energy produced in a home.
“When the sun is out and shining these PV systems are then able to cover any of the loads that are running at that home,” Alexander said. “If there is an excess, that extra electricity is back-fed onto the grid and essentially runs the meter backwards which is then credited to the customer.”
The NV Energy website also touts the solar energy benefits for the environment on their website, which states, “A one kilowatt solar system will prevent approximately 170 pounds of coal from being burned, 300 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, and 105 gallons of water from being consumed each month.”
Although NV Energy is cutting back on economic incentives for solar power, the growing environmental movement might offset the cut backs. According to a poll by solar power producer SolarCity, the newer generation is becoming more concerned with reducing their environmental impact and less concerned with costs than the older generations.
According to the poll, the percentage of baby boomers who purchase clean energy to save money was 80 percent, while 27 percent purchase to reduce their impact. Alternatively, the percentage of millennials who make clean energy purchases was 74 percent to save money versus 38 percent to reduce impact.
The current jump to solar power has occurred, in part, because of the shrinking incentives offered by NV Energy as well as the approaching end of a federal tax credit for solar installations.
“Currently there is a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the installed cost of a system,” Alexander said. “This tax credit is set to expire in 2016.”
This article was written by authors for a final project in Society, Environment, and Media. NV was not available for comment.