There is a great article out this spring by Prachi Patel writing for Conservation Magazine, "Rooftop solar panels could provide nearly half US power." The report cited is from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory* (NREL).
If we are really serious about averting the worst effects of climate change and reducing the damage that we are causing the the planet right now (that will reverberate for thousands of years of future generations of people), then we should be doing all that we can to speed up the installation of solar panels on rooftops. Along with energy efficiency, using existing rooftops for solar is low-hanging fruit. Generating energy where it is used is efficient, cheaper than burning coal, and it is also more egalitarian.
In Nevada, sadly it is no longer affordable for people with sunny rooftops to start making some electricity from them because of a recent ruling by the Public Utilities Commission. This problem can be fixed (if they get enough signatures) in an upcoming referendum on the November 2016 ballot.
When someone with a sunny rooftop installs 20 solar panels up there, they will work together to generate electricity at up to 5 kW at one time, but the home owner may not be using that much electricity. When that happens, the meter runs backwards and that electricity flows into the city grid. Let's say that in one month, this homeowner sends 50 kWh into the grid. Net Metering is the relationship set up whereby the utility company buys back those 50 kWh at a rate established by the Public Utilities Commission. In almost all US states the rate is the retail rate or higher. In other words, rooftop solar owners are paid at least the same amount for energy as it would cost them to buy it. This makes it cost-effective for people to install solar panels on their rooftop.
See our blog post on how to create even more incentive by raising the national tax credit to 50%.
One way or another, we simply have got to work together to make it financially attractive for people to install solar panels on their rooftops. Energy companies must embrace distributed energy and get into the game installing it themselves, like Con Edison is doing in New York State.
The text and information graphics below are provided by Bring Back Solar, the organization that is fighting to fix the damage done to the sustainable economy by the recent decision by the PUC. Since the rule was passed, thousands of solar jobs have left the state.
Background on How We Can Rebuild Nevada’s Solar Economy
Background on Solar Jobs in Nevada
Prior to the recent decision by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), Nevada’s solar industry was growing at a rapid pace. The Solar Foundation estimates that, at the end of 2015, there were almost 8,700 solar jobs in the state.
In 2014 alone, Nevada added 3,500 solar jobs, more than NVE’s total employees that year. In 2015 this massive growth continued with another 2,800 jobs added, making Nevada the number one state in the county in solar jobs per capita. Solar jobs grew more than 53 times faster than the state’s average employment during the same period of time. Overall, the solar industry has created over 200,000 jobs nationwide. This is more than the oil and gas industry combined. Solar creates good-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced – rooftop solar installations by definition must occur locally.
What is Net Energy Metering?
Net metering is a policy that enables families, businesses, schools, and others who generate their own electricity from solar power to get fair credit for the benefit they provide to their communities. Net metering has been the law in Nevada since 1997 and contrary to NVE’s statement, was not just a pilot program.
Even though designed not to exceed a customer’s annual electricity demand, most solar systems produce more electricity than a solar customer can consume each day. All that extra electricity goes onto the electric grid, and the utility then sells it at full retail price to the customer’s neighbors to power their homes. As a result, when one customer in a neighborhood goes solar, the entire neighborhood ends up using solar electricity.
Net metering gives solar customers credit for the extra solar energy their systems send to the grid. In 43 states around the country, solar customers receive a dollar of credit for every dollar of energy they send to the grid for their neighbors to use.
How Does Net Metering Affect Non-Solar Customers?
Study after study, including a 2014 independent report required by the Legislature (AB 428) and commissioned by the PUCN, show that solar customers provide a positive economic benefit to all ratepayers and the grid.
Regardless of whether an individual family or business has gone solar, all customers benefit from rooftop solar because solar customers provide clean energy to their communities and utility. This reduces the need to build and maintain costly power plants and new powerlines to keep up with consumer demand. In Nevada, each solar installation creates a net benefit of $144 dollars per year for the grid – over $770,000 last year alone. This is because rooftop solar reduces the need for costly new infrastructure and sends clean energy to the grid when and where demand for energy is highest. On the other hand, about $57 dollars of each Nevadans annual bill goes towards NV Energy’s profits – which exceeded $350 million of net income in 2014.
What did the Public Utilities Commission Decide and Why is it Bad for Nevadans?
In December, the PUCN eliminated the state’s net metering policy, which affected the economic savings for current and future solar customers. The Commission increased fixed charges on all net metering customers by over 300% in order to ensure that NV Energy can maintain its guaranteed profits. This led to a reduction of customer savings by over 50%. Additionally, the PUCN reduced by over 75% the credit solar customers get for the extra energy they send to the grid. At a minimum, solar customers will pay an extra $11,000 more compared to the old net metering rules.
Even more problematic, the PUCN took the unprecedented step of not “grandfathering” existing customers; meaning it applied these new rules to existing solar customers. As a result, existing solar customers – who were encouraged by the Legislature, PUCN, and NVE to go solar – now face major changes to their rates. For most customers, these changes greatly reduce customers’ expected savings – undermining their investments– and in some cases solar customers may end up paying more than had they not gone solar at all. No other state in the nation has applied new charges to existing solar customers in this way.
How Can We Bring Back Rooftop Solar to Nevada?
On January 18, 2016, the Bring Back Solar Alliance filed a referendum petition that would reverse the PUCN’s anti-solar decision. Because our leaders failed to act, we are asking voters to bring back Nevada’s solar future and restore confidence in government at the November 2016 ballot.
Solar supporters are continuing to advocate before the PUCN to try to find a solution that protects solar jobs, energy choice, and all Nevada ratepayers. Most immediate, we are asking the PUCN to reverse its position on grandfathering, so that current solar customers can stay on their previous net metering tariff for 20 years, without suffering new punitive fees and charges.
Even if existing customers are protected with grandfathering, the state must take action before November, to immediately bring the solar industry back to Nevada. We are asking the Legislature to call a special session to find a temporary solution that brings solar back to Nevada. The Nevada legislature can resolve this problem by repealing the decision of the PUCN and returning the state to its previous NEM policy. The voters will ultimately have the final decision on the state’s long-term solar future.
To learn more about how to bring solar back to Nevada, you can visit bringbacksolar.org.
You can read NV Energy's side of the debate here: NV Energy.