Fresh Ideas: ‘Please, sir, I want more clean energy’
I like to conserve energy — for the sake of my wallet and for the sake of the environment. NV Energy tells me my home uses much less energy than most similar homes in my area. Not bad. But I want to get to 100 percent clean energy, so I’ve been looking into solar.
My roof is shaded by two big spruce trees so solar panels won’t work effectively. I’ve been waiting eagerly for NV Energy’s proposed Solar Subscription Program. In that program, the utility would have purchased power from a new solar array built for the program, and NV Energy customers who subscribed to the program would have paid a small premium on their bill for a share of the electricity generated from the solar array. It would have been perfect for my needs.
Notice that I said “would have been.” I was disappointed to learn last week that NV Energy pulled the plug on the Subscription Solar Program before it even started. In a Dec. 2 letter to the Public Utilities Commission, the company told the commission it didn’t get bids from solar energy developers at prices that would make the program work.
I wonder how hard it tried. It seems to me that if the company really wanted this program to go, it could have found ways to get lower bids — for example, piggybacking the five or 10 megawatts the program would need onto proposals for larger utility-scale solar projects, which are coming in cheaper than ever.
Add this to the company’s proposal to cut compensation to rooftop solar owners for the electricity it put into the grid and steeply raise fees for net metering, and it gives the strong impression that NV Energy is not interested in providing clean energy options to small customers.
In contrast, I learned last week that NV Energy proposes to sign two big contracts to provide solar power to Switch and Apple: 79 megawatts to Switch and 50 megawatts to Apple. Both companies have goals to power their operations by 100 percent renewable energy, and NV Energy is commendably helping them to reach those goals. NV Energy also has agreed to provide 100 percent renewable power to the City of Las Vegas by 2017.
It’s good for the state that NV Energy is providing renewable energy to these big companies that employ a lot of Nevadans. But it also makes business sense for NV Energy to provide those companies with what they want because, unlike me, they can legally can go elsewhere for their power needs — and NV Energy could lose some big customers.
But I can’t go elsewhere because for the small ratepayer NV Energy, a monopoly, is the only electricity provider.
This column is a plea to NV Energy to consider the renewable energy goals of the Macquarie family. I know we don’t bring as much to the state as Apple and Switch do, but we do our part. And like Switch and Apple, we want to minimize our environmental impact by using 100 percent renewable energy.
NV Energy has more than a million customers in Nevada, most of them residential or small business customers. Even if only 10 percent of us want to buy renewable energy, that’s 100,000 customers. You’d think the company would try harder to accommodate us. Wouldn’t it be nice if the company at least put as much effort into designing and creatively implementing a working solar subscription program as it is putting into to undercutting rooftop solar?
It certainly is doing so in other places. NV Energy’s sister company, Rocky Mountain Power (both are subsidiaries of Berkshire Hathaway), has just begun a subscriber solar program in which the company is funding the building of 20 megawatts of solar power in Utah. Customers will be able to sign up for the program by the middle of next year.
In a recent poll conducted in June 2015, Nevadans strongly support clean energy: 73 percent of respondents said Nevada does not rely enough on renewable energy, and 92 percent favor solar net metering. These are strong numbers. You’d think NV Energy and the Public Utilities Commission would pay attention and actively design and support options for ratepayers to buy renewable power.
I feel like the orphan in the scene in the classic movie “Oliver!” where the poor, starved little Oliver marches to the head of the dingy orphanage dining hall, timidly holds up his bowl and asks the well-fed overseer, “Please sir, I want more.”
This is me to NV Energy and the Public Utilities Commission: “Please sir, I want more clean energy.”
Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at nevadanscleanenergy.org.