CARSON CITY — Nevada government and business leaders may have to shift at least part of their established economic development focus from renewable energy to other opportunities if new net metering rules drive the rooftop-solar business out of Nevada as predicted by industry officials.
Rooftop solar was only very recently identified as a priority for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Office of Energy. A rooftop-solar initiative implemented in 2012 had a goal of getting 5 percent of all single family homes and businesses in Nevada to use rooftop-solar systems. The office also had a goal of seeking to make solar electricity cost-competitive with other forms of energy.
The office received a $765,000 grant in 2011 for its Nevada Rooftop Solar Initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The initial target market was 25,000 homes and businesses, with 80 percent being residential and 20 percent commercial. The goal was for rooftop solar to be installed on 1 percent of the target market in 2013 and 2 percent by 2015, with an increase in the rate of rooftop solar in the target market by 20 percent each year starting in 2016, according to a news release announcing the grant in December 2011.
Currently, there are 15,728 interconnected net metering customers at Nevada Power Co. in Southern Nevada, and 2,536 customers with Sierra Pacific in Northern Nevada.
The energy office has also provided more than $8 million in various grants and loans, which have specifically benefited rooftop-solar projects and other net-metered solar projects throughout Nevada. Some of the projects include the city of Las Vegas, the Desert Research Institute, Esmeralda County and the cities of Carlin, Ely and West Wendover, among others.
But Angie Dykema, director of the Office of Energy, said the 5 percent goal identified for the rooftop-solar program was related specifically to the DOE grant.
“It was not an office goal, not a goal of our agency, but the grant goal,” she said.
The grant has since expired, and the program is no longer highlighted on the agency’s website, where it had been posted until just a few weeks ago.
The office did just recently announce that $467 million in state incentives, grants and loans have been provided to develop the solar industry in Nevada.
The agency said the funds have benefited both small– and large-scale projects and provided more than 2,900 verifiable permanent and temporary construction jobs. This is part of a continuing effort to meet and exceed Nevada’s aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires the state’s energy portfolio to be comprised of 25 percent of renewable energy sources by 2025.
The office has helped generate a huge economic impact in the solar industry in Nevada, particularly with large-scale solar projects, Dykema said.