Nevada to do fresh analysis on rooftop solar costs, benefits

LAS VEGAS — State officials plan to do a fresh study on whether rooftop solar is a net benefit or burden for Nevada’s electric power ratepayers.

The Nevada Board of Examiners approved nearly $67,000 so a contractor can re-do a cost analysis published in 2014. Members of the Legislative Committee on Energy asked for the update.

The report from 2014 was a key piece of evidence in the debate about whether to raise rooftop solar rates, with parties on both sides citing the findings. The report found that rooftop solar systems would provide a net benefit of $36 million to the state’s ratepayers if all market factors held steady, but that they could be a net burden of $222 million if the price of utility-grade solar energy dropped.

The price of energy from large-scale solar farms has dropped below $50 per megawatt hour, down from about $100 per megawatt hour when the report was being drafted and below the $80 rate that led to the calculation of a $222 million net burden.

Officials with the Public Utilities Commission said the 2014 report provided a snapshot in time, but it’s unknown where costs are heading now. A fresh analysis could inform regulators as they consider rate changes this summer.

Rooftop solar companies contend that regulators should consider a broader range of factors in deciding whether rooftop solar is a benefit for the state. SolarCity released a report last month that found rooftop installations save Nevada’s customers $7 million to $14 million a year, counting the health benefits of cleaner electricity production and savings from not building new power infrastructure.

PUC attorney Lina Tanner said SolarCity’s report addressed regulators’ questions about the range of benefits from rooftop solar installations, but it’s an “apples to oranges” comparison to the 2014 study.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a member of the Board of Examiners, said he hoped the two sides of the rooftop solar issue could agree on a set of facts and resolve what has been a contentious debate. “What I’m trying to avoid here is for us to get another report and one side saying you didn’t consider A, B, C and D, and then we’re still in the same place we’ve been,” Sandoval said.


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