Fresh Ideas: Time has come for 100 percent clean energy
January 27, 2016
I have been watching the halting progress of the Nevada State Legislature toward a coherent clean energy strategy for some years now, and I'm disappointed. The Legislature started out great back in 1997, passing one of the first state renewable portfolio standards, then followed that with a workable, though modest, net energy metering program for rooftop solar.
But then the Legislature lost momentum, and indeed reached a new low last session, when both houses unanimously (with the sole exception of Assembly member Maggie Carlton) passed S.B. 374 in the final minutes of the session. Heeding NV Energy's unproven assertion non-solar customers were subsidizing rooftop solar customers, the Legislature directed the Public Utilities Commission to come up with new — presumably higher — rates for rooftop solar customers. But even before those last-minute shenanigans, the Legislature had not even considered a proposed energy efficiency bill, and referred a bill to make it easier to finance clean energy to an interim study committee — the place bills go to die.
Then last month the PUC approved NV Energy's proposal to significantly raise rates for rooftop solar customers, and angry customers lined up outside the Public Utilities Commission hearing room in a line that snaked out of the door and into the parking lot, waiting to tell the PUC how unfair the new rates were and how they would kill rooftop solar in Nevada.
Is this any way to make energy policy?
In the lack of a strong, coherent state energy policy, maybe it's time to turn to Nevada's cities to help us realize our clean energy potential.
Las Vegas is already leading the way. In November, Mayor Caroline Goodman announced Las Vegas would power all city facilities, "Every city light, city park, community center, fire station and service yard," with 100 percent solar power from a solar project being built near Boulder City.
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But the big news is from San Diego, the county's eighth largest city. Last month San Diego passed a legally binding ordinance to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. And unlike Nevada, it's not going to hesitate to use rooftop solar as a part of the mix. The New York Times quotes Nicole Capretz, one of the authors of an early draft of the plan: "We're sunny in San Diego, so we're counting on a lot of homegrown solar on rooftops and parking lots," she said.
If San Diego and Las Vegas can do it, why not Reno and Carson City?
I listened to two hours of testimony by rooftop solar customers in the PUC meeting last week and something became clear. Sure, cutting down their utility bills, many of them said, was a big part of their decision to go solar, but many of them installed solar because they believe in the value of clean energy to the environment, and they want to do their part to mitigate climate change. These people are smart, eloquent and committed. If I were a Nevada politician and I had been responsible for annoying such a valuable constituency, well, I would think again about what I could do to make it up to them — like, for example, designing a coherent, effective, and aggressive clean energy strategy for the state and its cities.
Just this week the Sierra Club, with almost 60,000 members and supporters in Nevada — another big constituency — launched a campaign to work with states and cities to move to 100 percent clean energy. David von Seggern, chair of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, thinks it's doable: "We can make the transition to renewable energy sources for nearly all our energy needs. With abundant renewable energy sources in Nevada, our state is primed to be a leader in this quest."
I hope our political leaders recognize the strong constituency for clean energy in Nevada and work to make Nevada the leader in clean energy it should be.
Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at nevadanscleanenergy.org.