First move taken to allow rental of solar panels

It takes a lot of greenbacks to go green and install solar panels that silently generate clean electric power from the light of the sun.

A typical solar panel system for a residence costs $15,000 to $30,000, but several companies want to eliminate the up-front cost by offering to lease or rent the solar systems to homeowners and small businesses.

The Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday took the first step to giving Nevadans an opportunity to rent from these solar companies. The commission indicated it plans to establish rules for companies that want to rent or lease solar systems.

In a 2-1 vote, the commission rejected a commission staff proposal to require the energy companies to make applications on a case-by-case basis and to provide their business and financial plans for commission review.

Commissioner Rebecca Wagner, an advocate of renewable power, balked at the staff proposal.

Wagner said she wants the commission to start writing standardized rules for solar system rental companies without further delay.

“I think all of this has been debated over a decade,” Wagner said.

Wagner said she wouldn’t vote to accept the report, because it contains erroneous information from some participants in the case.

Commissioner Sam Thompson joined Wagner in rejecting the staff recommendation but he complimented the research in the report.

Chairwoman Jo Ann Kelly dissented, saying she felt the staff report was well done.

Kelly said she didn’t want Nevada to become like California. “Hollywood is in the state to our west,” Kelly said. “We have to be realistic.”

The chairwoman questioned the reliability of solar systems, saying Nevadans cannot rely on cool ocean breezes in the summer and must have air conditioning. Wagner said reliability hasn’t become an issue with solar panels.

Kelly said she wanted the commission to be “an objective neutral agency providing information to the Legislature” in the 2009 session. Bills related to renting solar systems are expected.

The commission staff expressed concern that solar system rental companies legally might be considered utilities and, thus, prohibited, because most of the state is served by two regulated monopoly power companies, Sierra Pacific Power Co. of Reno and Nevada Power Co. of Las Vegas. Thompson, a lawyer, said he didn’t believe rental companies would meet the legal definition of utilities.

Solar system rental companies applauded the vote.

SunEdison of Beltsville, Md., is encouraged that the majority of the commission wants to review rules for third-party companies that put solar systems on homes and businesses, said Rick Gilliam, SunEdison’s managing director of western states.

SunEdison, he said, is “the largest third-party provider of solar systems in the country.”

CitizenRe, a start-up company in the field, also welcomed the decision.

“We are pleased they have decided to go forward and develop general guidance on the issue of third-party ownership (of solar systems),” said senior vice president Ericka Morgan.

Morgan added: “I’m not aware of any other state that requires a business to come in and disclose their business and financial model prior to working in the state.”

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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