PUC discusses solar payment program | NevadaAppeal.com

PUC discusses solar payment program

BRIAN DUGGAN
bduggan@nevadaappeal.com

Nevada utility regulators are studying a new program that could spur more renewable energy investment among individual Nevadans.

At a Public Utilities Commission of Nevada meeting in Carson City on Monday, power companies and renewable power advocates gathered to talk about “feed in tariffs,” a popular financing tool widely used in Germany and other European countries.

A feed in tariff allows homeowners (or groups of homeowners), usually with expensive photovoltaic power systems, to sign contracts with power companies, which then pay homeowners a fixed rate for the solar energy they produce over many years. In other words, each home becomes a mini power plant that sells its electricity back to the power grid, which is different from “net metering” programs offered by power companies such as NV Energy that credit customers for the renewable energy they generate.

But whether or not these so-called “feed in tariffs” would be a good – as well as legal – fit for Nevada, given complex federal and state laws that govern energy production and distribution, is still up for debate, said Com-

missioner Rebecca Wagner.

“Feed in tariffs could be another tool in the green tool box,” Wagner said. “They may work, they may not work … it’s just another policy option.”

Wagner said she still thinks other incentive programs, such as Renewable Generations, which provide rebates to help cover the up-front costs for Nevadans looking to invest in renewable energy systems, could and should be tweaked before introducing another financing tool such as feed in tariffs to spur renewable energy development in the Silver State.

The 2009 Legislature directed the utilities commission to study feed in tariffs, which have been considered and adopted in one form or another in about a dozen states.

Bob Tregilus, co-chair of the Electric Auto Association of Northern Nevada, has urged the state to look into the possibility of making feed in tariffs part of the state’s policy arsenal.

He points to the fact that ever-cloudy Germany is the world’s leading user and producer of solar power as a result of feed in tariffs.

“They put in 3 gigawatts of solar last year, we only put in 300 megawatts in the whole U.S.,” Tregilus said.

For now, feed in tariffs will be studied, but no action is expected in the near future given legal and economic questions still surrounding them.

Douglas Brooks, assistant general counsel for NV Energy, said a feed in tariff in Nevada would raise costs on rate payers throughout the state, adding, “We really owe it to ourselves to measure the progress of the programs we have right now.”