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Community based solar option begins in earnest with newly launched NV Energy program


by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
January 14, 2022

An NV Energy program to expand solar access to low-income Nevadans and disadvantaged businesses is off to a solid start, a program administrator says, and is expected to continue to grow in coming years.

Lawmakers during the 2019 Legislative Session passed a law essentially requiring the monopoly energy company to establish a program to support community-based solar projects that are accessible to low-income customers without requiring them to install physical solar systems on site. The program also guarantees for low-income individuals lower rates than the existing net metering structure in state law.

Cynthia Alejandre, director of contract management and special programs at NV Energy, told lawmakers on the Joint Interim Committee on Growth & Infrastructure this week that as of Jan. 1 the program is in effect and benefitting nearly 2,000 customers, most of them low-income households.

According to presentation materials, enrollment is currently:

  • 1,459 low-income customers, who must have an income of not more than 80% of the Area Median Income based on U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines.
  • 444 “eligible premise customers” who don’t qualify for the low-income category but cannot install solar panels on their residences because of physical or ownership constraints.
  • 48 disadvantaged businesses. These are defined as a business in which 50% or more of the owners are women, veterans, members of a racial or ethnic minority group or otherwise part of a traditionally underrepresented group. None of the owners can have a net worth of more than $250,000.

Those low-income customers represent 18,340 megawatt hours — far below the legislatively set program capacity cap of 100,000 megawatt hours. Similarly, megawatt hours expected to be used by eligible premises and business customers are a small fraction of the capacity.

If at capacity, the Expanded Solar Access Program could serve more than 8,700 households in the low-income category and more than 15,000 households typically restricted from installing solar panels because they are rentals or have physical constraints (e.g. condos).

Alejandre told lawmakers on the committee that NV Energy plans to expand to additional customers as the program grows. She added that the company learned a lot in their first round of marketing the program and soliciting applications.

“We are very motivated to increase that number,” said Alejandre, “but at the same time understand that it was the first program, the first run. As people start talking about it, sharing with their families, showing with their friends, I think we will be seeing a spike in these categories.”

Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Clark) said he was encouraged by the start to the program and praised the company for having “a simple process” for customers.

“Both of my parents actually applied for and were approved for (the program) in two different categories,” he added.

“Solar is great technology,” Watts told the Current. “It’s the most effective source of electric there is and it has the ability to lower bills. But there have been barriers to access. Some people may rent. Some people might not have the ability to have solar panels on their roof. Or they might not be able to afford that. That’s really what it comes down to. As the technology grows and we reap benefit from them, that those benefits get to everyone.”

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada granted approval of the NV Energy program in the summer and applications were accepted and reviewed in the fall.

NV Energy this year will move forward with establishing new community-based solar resources that generate energy for the program. State law requires the program to create at least six but no more than 20 solar resources, split evenly between northern and southern Nevada.

The program’s pilot project — a carport facility at Mojave High School in North Las Vegas — is operational as of Dec. 21. It includes 1,012 solar panels that can generate at least 773 megawatt hours per year.

The next two solar resources are expected to be at Freedom Park in southern Nevada and Moana Center for northern Nevada, though negotiations with the cities are currently ongoing. Those two sites were chosen after a public nomination and voting period in the fall. NV Energy hopes to have construction completed on those by October 2023.

A full report on the Expanded Solar Access Program is due to the Legislature by March 1.

NV Energy customers can find additional details about the program at nvenergy.com/esap.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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