Tag Archives: Public Utilities Commission

JuiceBox Energy deal may be solar-saver

If innovation truly is the mother of invention, a deal between a Silicon Valley energy storage firm and a Las Vegas solar installer may be just what Nevada’s solar industry needs.

In January, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) redefined the residential rooftop solar industry with its revision of net energy metering regulations. The decision has resulted in the loss of perhaps thousands of solar industry installation jobs, launched several lawsuits and spawned a bid for a ballot measure.

So when opportunity knocked, JuiceBox Energy, a Silicon Valley-based company with offices in Las Vegas, opened the door to what utility companies such as NV Energy might consider a Pandora’s Box.

Teaming with Las Vegas-based Bombard Renewable Energy, one of the leading installers of residential solar in Las Vegas, JuiceBox is providing a battery system that is capable of both peak shifting and power backup.

Because of the PUCN decision to reduce the amount of compensation that rooftop solar customers will receive from selling excess solar energy to the grid, rooftop solar investors may not see a return on that investment within their lifetime.

However, with the introduction of the JuiceBox Energy storage system, the energy generated by rooftop solar systems can effectively offset the peak energy charges imposed by NV Energy, changing the math of rooftop solar systems.

The JuiceBox system works by capturing and storing the energy generated by a rooftop solar system and then dispensing that stored energy during “peak energy” rate hours as defined by NV Energy.

“While no system is designed to take a household entirely off the grid,” said Greg Maguire, vice president of operations for JuiceBox, “we can significantly reduce the amount of money paid to energy utilities by reducing the amount of energy consumed during peak energy rate hours.”

With the JuiceBox system, the house draws power from the solar system first, the JuiceBox batteries second, and the utility grid third. In this way, nearly 100 percent of the power generated by the rooftop solar system is used by the homeowner. In a rooftop system without battery storage, much of the energy is generated during the daytime hours when residents are at work or school and unable to use the power. The excess power is then sent to the power grid where the utility purchases it at a significantly discounted rate.

JuiceBox allows the homeowner to use the power generated by the rooftop solar system to operate normal appliances and air conditioning system, and send the excess energy to a battery storage system, during the hours when NV Energy charges the most for its power. In the evening, when the batteries are drained, the household uses power from the grid when the rates are the least expensive.

Bombard Renewable Energy completed its first installation of the JuiceBox Energy storage solution in January at a Las Vegas home. The installation includes dual 8.6kWh JuiceBox Energy storage systems (17.2kWh total capacity) and an 11kW solar array. It is predicted that the annual energy savings provided by this system will be around $16,000 per year. For every 6kW of solar system installed on the roof, there is one inverter and the capability to install up to two 8.6 kW JuiceBox storage systems. JuiceBox batteries are composed of lithium-ion nickel manganese cobalt and deliver a minimum of 4,000 charging and discharging cycles over 10 years of operation and average about $10,500 installed after federal rebates.

“Residential solar is here to stay in Nevada,” said Bo Balzar, operations manager of Bombard Renewable Energy. “Bombard is excited to be the first solar installer in the state to join JuiceBox Energy on its intelligent, grid-connected energy storage system. This type of net energy metered solar PV power system will allow ratepayers to contribute to the sustainable energy future of Nevada by increasing their use of renewable energy, and lowering their costs, for many years to come.”

JuiceBox started the research and development on the product in 2013 and installed its first system in 2015. To date, the company has installed the systems in seven states, predominantly where energy rates are high, the need for backup power exists, where there is a focus on green energy, and where time of use rates are applied. Nevada fits each of those categories.

The next project on the books for JuiceBox is an energy management system that controls the thermostats and water heaters the way the customer wants the system to work, with the slogan “We put the customer in charge.”

According to Maguire, “By investing in a JuiceBox Energy System, you are increasing your self-consumption, reducing reliance on the grid, creating a backup power, and powering a greener future.”


– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/technology/juicebox-energy-deal-may-be-solar-saver#sthash.L51Uv2Kn.dpuf

PUCN finalizes the Net Metering Controversy


Protesters gather outside of the PUCN building in Las Vegas.

By Craig A. Ruark

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada ended the ten-month controversy on the Net Energy Metering (NEM), with a final decision last Friday, February 12th. Most feel that the decision also killed the rooftop solar industry—at least for the time being.

With Friday’s decision, the new rate structure that went into effect January 1, 2016, will remain with one change. Instead of yearly incremental changes, the rates will change every three years until the year 2028. According to the PUCN, this every three-year cycle will be consistent with the general rate case cycles of both Nevada Power and Sierra Power, both of which are subsidiaries of NV Energy.

Beginning January 1, 2016, NEM customers of Nevada Power saw their monthly service charge climb from $12.75 to $17.99, where it will remain until the next increase on December 31, 2018. By the year 2028, that charge will reach a rate of $38.51.

While the service charge went up, the amount that NV Energy will pay for excess energy generated by NEM customers went down from 11.6 cents per kilowatt hour about 9 cents from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2018. That amount will decline to 2.6 cents by Jan. 1, 2028.

The reason for the change in NEM rates is the $315 million cost subsidy that non-net metering customers have been paying to support the rooftop solar customers. That equates to $1,544.11 per month for each NEM customer. NV Energy claims that there are two causes for the increase in NEM costs, fully dedicated employees and the Renewable Energy Department.

NV Energy has three customer service representatives in the south, and 1.5 representatives in the north, to plus one supervisor allocated to handle phone calls and manually review NEM ratepayers’ bills. As for the Renewable Energy Department, 94 percent of the internal labor costs are allocated to the NEM ratepayer.

In addition, NV Energy stated that the company receives less revenue from NEM customers while the fixed and demand costs incurred by the utility to serve the NEM customers largely remain the same.

However, many opponents of the change say that the subsidy numbers are inaccurate when you take into consideration the saving afforded to NV Energy by having over 17,000 rooftop solar customers connected to the grid.

Distributive generation, as it is called, is far more efficient than building more centralize power plants. And when calculating the contribution made by residential and commercial rooftop solar the PUCN needs to take a number of things into consideration.

  • Rooftop Solar reduces the need for expensive new power plants and transmission lines;
  • less energy is lost in transmission because much of the power generated by rooftop solar is used within the neighborhood where it’s generated;
  • Rooftop solar requires no fuel, and so it provides a hedge against future fossil fuel price increases;
  • NV Energy does not have to pay environmental fees associated with the burning of fossil fuel
  • The energy produced by rooftop solar does not require water
  • Rooftop solar allows NV Energy to close in on state renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission goals without paying for utility-scale solar and wind farms.

A study by Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), was present to the PUCN, which demonstrated that NEM policies do not result in NEM ratepayer free-riding and unreasonable cost-shifting. It further points out that NEM ratepayers create an estimated total net present value to the non-NEM ratepayer of $36 million per system during their lifetime. With an average lifetime of 25 years, that equates to a benefit of $1.4 million per year for each NEM customer. E3, founded in 1989, advises utilities, regulators, government agencies, power producers, energy technology companies, and investors on a wide range of critical issues in the electricity and natural gas industries.

However, the staff of the PUCN rejected the E3 study on the basis that it included “alternative analysis of key drivers,” some of which are listed above.

Regardless of whether the PUCN is right or wrong, their decision has sent the rooftop solar industry into a tailspin. Solar installation sales have decreased dramatically since the December 22 decision on the new rate structure that took effect on January 1st of this year. Massive layoffs have been made, and some of the smaller companies are shutting down operations completely.

Meanwhile, across the country and around the world, energy experts are convinced that distributive generation is the way of the future. One such company who agrees is Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the United States. Duke is actively changing their business model to include distributive generation and has recently purchased a majority interest in REC Solar, a rooftop installation company.

Here in Nevada, the battle is not over. On January 25th, several solar companies held a press conference to announce the kickoff of a drive to gather 55,234 signatures from registered Nevada voters. If successful, a ballot initiative that would require NV Energy to revert to the 2015 Net Energy Metering payment and grid connection fees and eliminate a cap on the number of net metering systems that can be brought online.

Backing the signature gathering campaign is former Nevada Governor Robert List who told the media; “As things now stand, the residential solar industry has just basically been destroyed, and with it the opportunity for Nevadans to sign up and participate and help save our environment, and save money, and do the right thing.”

In addition, John Bamforth and Stanley Schone, represented by the law firm of Jolley, Urga, Woodbury & Little, have filed a class action lawsuit against NV Energy and are demanding a jury trial.

Talk among small solar installation companies after the PUCN decision on Friday indicates that there are more lawsuits coming.

“Three years is the best we are going to get for now,” said Louise Helton, Vice President of 1 Sun Solar, a locally owned solar company that has been selling and installing solar systems in Las Vegas since 2009. “This will give us time to follow through with the lawsuits and approach the legislature about changes to the PUCN’s decision.”

Power play in full swing

The issue of rooftop solar is not likely to be settled soon.

But the battle lines have been drawn pitting star power and protestors vs. legislative mandate, Las Vegas vs. Nevada, the public perception of Nevada as a solar leader vs. reality.

On the morning of Jan. 13, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada held a hearing, solar advocate voices got louder, threats grew stronger, and the commission started preparations for an impending court battle.

Both sides have declared “game on.” And where that leads is anybody’s guess.

At stake for the residents with rooftop solar is a new rate that reduces the amount NV Energy pays for excess electricity that is supplied to the grid, in addition to a fee for hooking up to the grid.

The plan is designed to be implemented in steps over a four-year period. Net Energy Metering customers would see their service charge for connecting to the grid increase from the current $12.75 per month to a rate of $38.51 by Jan. 1, 2020. Meanwhile, the amount that they receive in credits for supplying energy to the grid will decrease from the 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.6 cents per by Jan. 1, 2020.

Because of the initial investment cost for solar panels, along with the reduced earning and increased connection fees, most agree that residents with solar panels will be paying more for electricity than residents without solar. NV Energy will be receiving energy to its grid without paying the cost of generating and, largely, transmitting because most energy generated by residential solar customers is distributed within the neighborhood.

That morning nearly 1,000 protesters stood outside the PUCN building in Las Vegas holding handmade signs and chanting slogans against NV Energy and Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The chants were led by high profile notables such as Debbie Dooley, a preacher’s daughter from Louisiana, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, member of the board of directors of the national Tea Party Patriots, and, since 2012, a fierce solar-power advocate.

She, along with actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo, most recently known for his portrayal of Dr. Bruce Banner in “The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron,” took turns speaking through a bullhorn delivering sound bite after sound bite.

“Tell your governor that he’s wrong — that the Public Utilities Commission is for the public, not the utility,” said Ruffalo. “Sandoval and the Public Utilities Commission is the anti-Robin Hood.” Ruffalo continued, saying “today is just the beginning. If the Public Utility Commission doesn’t come through and do the right thing for the people of Nevada — then it’s GAME ON!”

Within hours, the commission would accept that challenge.

Inside the chambers, it was standing-room only during the public comment period as speakers poured their hearts out for their allotted three minutes, pleading for the commission to reverse their December ruling that instituted a new rate structure and monthly connection fee.

During the seven hours of public comment, commissioners Paul Thomsen and David Noble in Carson City, and Commissioner Alaina Burtenshaw in Las Vegas, sat stoically while being accused of everything from taking bribes to collusion to not even knowing how solar energy works.

Meet the commissioners
The commission is made up of three members, each appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Commissioner Paul A. Thomsen became chairman on Oct. 1. Previously, he served as Sandoval’s appointee as the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy. He was selected for that position in September 2013.
Commissioner Alaina Burtenshaw, a lawyer, was appointed to the commission by Gov. Jim Gibbons on Jan. 18, 2010, and was re-appointed by Sandoval in June 2013. She served as chair of the PUCN from February 2011 to September 2015. Burtenshaw’s career with the PUCN began in 1992, first as assistant staff counsel and later staff counsel, with the Regulatory Operations arm of the PUCN.
Commissioner David Noble, also a lawyer, was appointed by Sandoval in August 2011 and reappointed in October 2012. He has been with the commission since 1997, working as an administrative attorney, assistant staff counsel, assistant general counsel, and hearings officer. Noble was also a commission liaison to the Nevada Legislature on various utility and administrative matters over six regular legislative sessions from 2001 to 2011.

After all the members of the public who asked to speak had their turn, the chairman declared the public comment period closed and moved onto to the next items on the agenda.

Three of the items involved the request for reconsideration of the exit fees being assessed to the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (owner of The Venetian, Palazzo, Sands Convention Center and this publication), Wynn Resorts, and MGM Resorts. The resorts want to leave Nevada Power and choose another provider. The request was denied in each of the three cases. A second request by each of the three entities to consider a different energy provider — yet to be named — was approved.

Then came the residential solar agenda item. The item itself, and the only thing that the commission was allowed to vote on during this meeting, was a “petition for a stay” of the December ruling until a petition for reconsideration could be heard.

That petition has been filed by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, Bureau of Consumer Protection, along with the Alliance for Solar, Vote Solar, and the Solar Energy Industry Association. The petition for reconsideration will be heard during a meeting in February.

Before taking a vote on the petition for a stay, the chairman, as is procedure, made a few corrections to the draft order, then asked if there were any comments or questions by each of the Commission members. Commissioners Noble and Burtenshaw replied that they did not.

However, Thomsen said “I feel greatly for the employees that lost their jobs. Receiving that news from all of us over the holidays was heavy on all of our hearts, and we heard today, and we have the distinct decision of balancing the rates for 2.8 million people who live in this state.”

Thomsen then acknowledged Commissioner Noble “for the incredible work” that he did in preparing the order.

Thomsen pointed out that Net Energy Metering first passed in 1997 and that the commission and the “highly qualified individuals that work here have been working with NEM since that time.”

“So I take offense, and I’ll take notice to all of the comments about how we don’t know what we’re doing, we didn’t do our homework. This commission has been working tirelessly not to penalize anyone or to favor one technology over the other, but to create a path forward for rooftop solar in this state that treats all rate payers fairly.”

Acknowledging that Ruffalo’s comments were exciting, Thomsen added that it “doesn’t make me uncomfortable to try to protect 98 percent of the residents in this state who don’t have net metering on their roofs.”

Thomsen then took this opportunity to ask Commissioner Noble a list of prepared questions. One of the important questions was about the contracts entered into by the residents for the sale of excess energy. The answer is, for those who lease their equipment, their contract is with the solar company. However, for those who purchased their system, the entered into an “agreement” with NV Energy whereby the language in those agreements state that it is subject to a legislative as well as a regulatory change.

Upon hearing that explanation, Thomsen took the opportunity to interject his observation that on June 5, the Nevada Legislature passed SB374, requiring the PUCN to develop an alternative to Net Energy Metering. Prior to that date, there were just 6,000 customers in the program. Currently there are more than 17,000 customers, which means that 11,000 were signed after the governor signed SB374.

“For the life of me, I don’t know why rooftop solar companies didn’t at least let their customers know that this proceeding was going on,” said Thomsen “I am flabbergasted; I don’t know why people would do that knowing that there was a decision coming down.”

What was interesting about the Q & A between Thomsen and Noble, is that the answers prepared by Noble were clearly designed to be read into public record in reply to the allocations made by the public during the public comment period, and to establish the basis by which their December decision had been made. Noble answered each question in detail, at times explaining technical terms for members of the pubic.

In the end, the petition for a stay was denied by the commission and the new rates remain in effect as of Jan. 1. And, while it was not stated out loud, the commission lead by Thomsen answered Ruffalo with its own implied version of “GAME ON.”

Meanwhile, on Jan. 19, Steve Ross, the City of Las Vegas’ mayor pro tem, jumped into the fray stating that “Their [the PUCN] decision is a poor decision… and we need to do something different in the city and we’re going to do that.” His statement came on the heels of his proposal that the city form an independent committee of energy experts to advise the city in the development of a comprehensive energy strategy.

Part of Ross’s plan is the sponsoring of a city ordinance that would create an Energy Improvement District that would allow residents and businesses to pay for solar panels and energy efficiency improvements. The payments could be rolled into the property’s mortgage, making solar upgrades more affordable and tying the improvements to the home or business rather than the individual.

Besides the recently continued 30 percent federal rebate program on solar systems, Ross is also anticipating the development and availability of affordable energy storage systems which could make the discussion of Net Energy Metering a moot point.

“The city of Las Vegas not only supports solar energy, but has emerged as a world leader in sustainability. In this light, I am concerned by the recent ruling by the Public Utilities Commission that negatively impacts all those residents who have invested in solar in their homes, as well as those who hope to add solar in the future. I believe that this sends a mixed message to the world about the commitment that Las Vegas has to sustainability,” said Ross.


– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/heard-street/power-play-full-swing#sthash.cOVibSPP.dpuf

Solar advocates hoping for a Christmas week miracle

The issue of solar net metering was not on the agenda of the state’s Public Utilities Commission meeting Dec.2. However, when it came time for public comments, the group calling itself “We Are Solar” had plenty to say.

In a scene reminiscent of the final courthouse scene of the Christmas movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” volunteers placed stacks of postcard-sized petitions, neatly tied with green and yellow ribbons, on the table before the commission while members of the public pleaded for the continuation of the current net metering program.

A total of 31,650 signed and digitally signed petitions were produced by those in favor of fair metering rules.

Each card read:

Dear Commissioners Thomsen, Burtenshaw, and Noble,

As you consider long-term rules for rooftop solar in Nevada, we ask you to protect competition and our freedom to choose affordable, clean, abundant solar energy. The rules proposed by NV Energy would eliminate choice for Nevadans.

Please adopt fair net metering rules and lead Nevada to a more prosperous, self-sufficient future.

Unlike in the movie, where a mountain of letters addressed to Santa swayed the judge to rule in favor of Kris Kringle’s sanity, solar advocates will have to wait a little longer to find out solar power’s fate. The PUC is scheduled to make its final ruling during the regularly scheduled Dec. 22 meeting.

There are at least 10,000 solar customers participating in the net metering program in Nevada. They make up around 1 percent of NV Energy’s customer base. However, unlike NV Energy’s large contract power suppliers, solar net metering customers don’t pay to transmit the energy from their solar panels to the grid or other grid upkeep charges. And that, according to NV Energy, is the heart of the problem.

According to NV Energy, other non-solar ratepayers are subsidizing the ability for solar customers to access the grid when the sun is not shining.

Net metering customers receive a nearly 12-cent per kilowatt hour credit on their power bill for every kilowatt hour that they generate but don’t use and send to the grid. That’s the same rate non-solar customers pay for the electricity they use.

NV Energy’s answer is to reduce the amount paid to residential rooftop solar customers for their excess energy from 12 cents down to five cents per kilowatt hour, and charge those customers a monthly fee to connect to the grid.

Rooftop advocates claim that this will make rooftop solar no longer viable for the consumer, and will make rooftop solar residents pay more for their electricity than non-solar residents.

A comparison of power bills in Southern Nevada showed that the average home paid $1,439 annually without solar and $168 annually with the installation of a rooftop solar system. With savings of $1,271 per year, the cost of purchasing a 7kw system (minus a NV Energy rebate and 30 percent tax credit), will have a payback of 5.5 years.

However, under the NV Energy proposal a residential solar customer would pay $1,534 annually for power, which equates to $95 more than non-solar customers. The NV Energy proposal calls for a monthly basic service charge of $18.15, along with a 1.43-cent generation meter charge, $78.82 demand charge, and receive a 5.5-cent credit (as opposed to the current 12 cents), for excess power that is delivered to the grid. Under this scenario, the customer will not see any payback on the system but instead will pay an extra $2,375 over the span of the projected 25-year life of the system.

A formal hearing on this matter was held before the PUC Nov. 18-20, generating thousands of pages of testimony.

Included was a recommendation by the PUC staff that residential solar customers pay monthly fees that include a $12.75 basic service charge, 1.48 cents for a generation meter charge, a $22.55 demand charge, and receive a 3.1 cent credit for each kWh of electricity delivered back to the grid.

Under this plan, there would not be any NV Energy rebates for the installation of the system but customers would still be able to take advantage of the federal 30% tax credit. It is estimated that the customer would pay $999 per year for electricity for a saving of $440 on their electric bill compared to the $1,439 paid by non-solar customers. At that rate, the system would have a very undesirable 32-year payback.

On the side of the consumer and the solar advocates is the State of Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, which represents ratepayers in PUC hearings. It filed a Notice of Intent to Intervene, allowing it to provide formal testimony and said NV Energy’s proposal had “serious flaws.” “The BCP is concerned that all residential customers — solar or not — will be overcharged,” said William Marcus, a consultant hired by the consumer advocate to research the proposal.

While the 31,650 petitions is the largest number ever presented to the PUCN, it is unclear as to whether it will be enough to sway the three-member commission to decide in favor of Kris Kringle’s sanity —or rather, the wallets of residential rooftop solar advocates.


– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/heard-street/solar-advocates-hoping-christmas-week-miracle#sthash.ZRMhOqy6.dpuf

What is next for rooftop solar advocates?

While other states have been debating the advantages and disadvantages of net metering for several years, Nevada has been on a fast track toward some sort of resolution since SB374 was signed by the Gov. Brian Sandoval on June 5. Under that bill, the State of Nevada Public Utilities Commission was given the directive to find an alternative to net metering by Dec. 31.

So it should not have been a surprise when a chartered bus carrying employees of Solar City showed up at the PUCN’s annual “General Consumer Session” on Sept. 22, wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with “We Are Solar” across the front. During the two two-hour sessions, more than 50 very passionate people stepped up to the microphone to express their concerns. And even though the session was open to comments about all of the utilities regulated by the PUCN (electric, gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications), nearly all of the comments were about rooftop solar systems.

Yet, even though the PUCN has been directed to find an alternative to net metering, most of the speakers were residents already in the program or waiting for their installation to be completed and requesting that the current net metering program remain intact. Many of the other speakers were employees of solar installation companies pleading for their jobs and livelihood.

What is next?

The final decision on the rooftop solar issue will be made by the PUCN’s commissioners, and can only be based on evidence that is presented by the official parties — called intervenors — in the case. That means the public’s pleas and comments, which were duly recorded and will reside in some file in Carson City, will in all likelihood not have much impact on the outcome.

On July 31, NV Energy filed an application for approval of a cost-of-service study and Net Energy Metering tariffs. And on August 4, the Stat of Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection filed a Notice of Intent to Intervene, meaning that they want to be a voice for the consumer on the setting of the new rooftop solar standard.

Since those two filings, 11 other petitions to intervene have been filed by groups such as the Sierra Club, Alliance for Solar Choice, Nevadans for Clean Affordable Reliable Energy; and some individual companies such as Bombard Renewable Energy.

However, there is another party that has a say in all cases before the PUCN. That party is the Regulatory Operations Staff of the PUCN. This staff operates separately from the commissioners and includes the director of regulatory operations, staff counsel, resource and market analysts, financial analysts, engineers, and consumer complaint resolution specialists. And, it is under the staff’s recommendation to the commission that all of those pleas of passion by the general public can be taken into consideration.

All “prepared direct testimony” by the staff and the intervenors must be filed with the commission by 2 p.m. on Oct. 27 p.m.

By Nov. 10, at 2:00 pm, NV Energy’s subsidiaries of Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power Co. must file their “prepared rebuttal testimony.”

The formal hearing on the matter before PUCN commission will begin on Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. and time has been allotted for continuation through Nov. 20, if necessary.

It is clear that the PUCN has a difficult decision to make. And, if each of the 11 intervenors and the staff submit their own individual plans, there will be a mountain of evidence to wade through before the Dec. 31 deadline. If on the other hand, the intervenors join together to present one viable option that takes into consideration the needs of NV Energy, as well as the owners of rooftop solar, the hearing could be quite short and the ruling simple.

– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/what-next-rooftop-solar-advocates#sthash.PSB34K8o.dpuf

Obama promotes solar in Vegas visit

Call it a “tree-hugger” convention or a political rally, but the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0, held Aug. 24 at Mandalay Bay, was clearly a vehicle used to keep the solar bandwagon moving across the country.

Or should I say, in the case of Nevada, to start the bandwagon moving again.

The elephant in the room was the recent Nevada net metering cap that had been reached three days before the start of the conference, throwing Nevada’s over 6,000 solar workers into panic mode.

President Barack Obama, feeling refreshed from his recent vacation, was greeted with a standing ovation and enthusiastic applause when he took the stage to deliver the closing address.

Not wasting any time, one of his initial comments was clearly directed toward NV Energy.

“It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market,” Obama said. “It’s another thing if you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working, and people want to buy it, and suddenly you’re not for it anymore. That’s a problem.”

The president announced that his administration will seek to expand access to a loan program that allows homeowners to get up-front financing for clean-energy or energy-efficient home upgrades, and then pay it off over many years as part of their property taxes.

“We’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on the roof with no up-front cost,” Obama said.

During his 30-minute speech, Obama remarked that “distributed” generation is sweeping the country as more and more homes install solar panels and, more recently, contemplate backing them up with home batteries. “The real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize that they can take more control over their own energy,” he said.

Obama also took advantage of this occasion to focus attention on his administration’s flagship climate change solution, the EPA’s recently completed Clean Power Plan, which depends upon the strong growth of clean energy.

The plan requires states to cut emissions through a mix of options that include greatly increasing the amount of electricity they get from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

However, 15 states, including West Virginia and Wyoming, have filed suit seeking an “emergency stay” of the rule, which they call “clearly unlawful.”

Sen. Harry Reid, the summit’s organizer and host for the past eight years, took several opportunities during the event to bemoan that Nevada is the first state to reach the limit on net metering, commenting on both the state of the current utility grid and efforts by utilities across the country to abandon or revise net metering regulations.

“Our electric grid has barely changed in a century, but that is quickly coming to an end. American demand for clean, reliable power choices is forcing change that is accelerating,” said Reid. “It is clear that distributed energy, energy storage, other sources of electricity and efficiency, are competing with utility-scale power plants as they should, and indeed the facts cannot be ignored. U.S. solar has increased 418 percent since 2010, and more than half of this increase comes in the form of solar panels on homes and businesses. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have authorized net metering, and nearly 60 percent of our utilities across the country are currently reviewing their net metering policies.”

A debate on the “Future of Rooftop Solar” — featuring Charles Cicchetti of Pacific Economic Group representing the rooftop solar contingent, and Lisa Wood of Edison Foundation speaking for the public utilities — captured the attention of attendees when they took opposing positions. Rose McKinney-James, managing principal of Energy Works Consulting and McKinney-James & Associates, moderated the debate with questions that were crafted to bridge the opinion gap. Despite her efforts to reach some common ground, the debate ended in a stand-off, reminiscent of the real world debates that are taking place in Congress.

Save our Solar signs and T-shirts could be seen throughout the Summit audience.

Save our Solar signs and T-shirts could be seen throughout the Summit audience.

Despite the rather negative vibe and the silent protest of T-shirts and signs reading “Save Our Solar,” NV Energy’s CEO Paul Caudill was on the agenda to introduce a panel discussion of “Energy in the Information Age.” Caudill received moderate applause during his short introduction when he spoke about the various statewide geothermal and solar projects in place and the partnership with First Solar to develop the new 100-megawatt grid-tied Switch Station that will be constructed and operated at costs that are being recognized industrywide as among the lowest seen in the United States.

Whether it was a result of the conference, pressure from politicians and the people, or simply the logical decision to be made at the moment, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission made a ruling three days after the summit, to extend the current net metering program until an alternative recommendation can be made at the end of 2015.

– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/obama-promotes-solar-vegas-visit#sthash.kfDCn4p2.dpuf

Special financing for renewable projects considered

Jacy Sparkman, left, and Matt Neifeld with Robco Electric install solar panels at a home in northwest Las Vegas. Proponents say a green bank would make money more readily available to finance projects like this. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Business Press)

Jacy Sparkman, left, and Matt Neifeld with Robco Electric install solar panels at a home in northwest Las Vegas. Proponents say a green bank would make money more readily available to finance projects like this. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Business Press)

During the last legislative session, the issue of whether to increase the net metering cap for rooftop solar captured much attention. But another green energy-related bill passed without controversy. And it may have a major effect on the state’s energy future.

Senate Bill 360 directs the previously established Legislative Committee on Energy to conduct an interim study concerning: (1) the development, viability, expansion and implementation of energy efficiency programs; and (2) the viability of establishing green banks and similar entities to help finance the use and harnessing of clean energy projects in the state, for both commercial and residential properties.

According to green energy advocates, the most important part of this bill is the establishment of “green banks.”

A green bank is a public or quasi-public financing institution that is established to provide low-cost, long-term financing support to clean energy projects. Rather than simply providing grants to stimulate clean energy investment, green banks leverage public funds through the use of various financial mechanisms to attract private investment so that each public dollar supports multiple dollars of private investment.

In addition to offering attractive interest rates, loan-loss reserves, and other market supports, these innovative banks draw on deep expertise from the public and private sectors to help demonstrate the profitability of clean energy investments.

In 2012, Connecticut created the first green bank in the United States. According to the bank’s 2013 annual report, for every one dollar of ratepayer funds invested, about $10 was invested by private sources.

Connecticut’s “Property Assessed Clean Energy” program accounts for much of this investment. It lets commercial customers finance clean energy upgrades to their buildings through their property tax bill with no money down.

According to the Coalition for Green Capital, the establishment of green banks in the U.S. will:

  • Stimulate demand by covering 100 percent of the upfront costs with a mixture of public and private financing;
  • Leverage public funds by attracting much greater private investment to clean energy and efficiency markets;
  • Recycle public capital so as to expand green investment and leave taxpayers unharmed;
  • Reduce market inefficiencies;
  • Scale out clean energy solutions as fast as possible, maximizing clean electricity and efficiency gains per state dollar.

Green banks are operating in Connecticut, New York, and Hawaii. With SB360 taking effect July 1, the Legislative Committee on Energy will have until Jan. 1, 2017, to study the viability of establishing a green bank in Nevada and present its findings to the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau for distribution to the 79th Nevada Legislature, as well as the Public Utilities Commission and the director of the office of energy.

The committee has been directed to seek out a Nevada financial institution that has expertise in the financing of clean energy projects. It will also interview other experts in the field of design, construction, and the operation of clean energy projects with regard to the installation and integration of green energy into both residential and commercial building projects.

Of course, the success of green banks that are already operating should also give the committee insight as to whether a green bank will work in Nevada.

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