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Solar power advocates, in Las Vegas for trade show, applaud Nevada rate agreement

Advocates and industry representatives in Las Vegas this week for the nation’s largest solar trade show are hailing an agreement they say “rights a wrong” committed against existing rooftop solar customers in Nevada.

Now, solar supporters say, Nevada needs to move ahead on policies that will reopen the state to rooftop renewables and give power customers what they overwhelmingly want: affordable options for putting up panels.

“I would say the fight in Nevada is far from over. It is just beginning,” said Adam Browning, co-founder and executive director of Vote Solar, an advocacy group based in Oakland, California.

Under the agreement announced Monday by NV Energy, 32,000 residential solar customers would be grandfathered into earlier, more economically viable metering rates and fixed monthly charges for 20 years.

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission is slated to vote Friday on the deal.

Last year, the commission adopted new, higher rates for residential solar arrays after a PUC review showed that regular NV Energy power customers were subsidizing rooftop solar customers to the tune of $16 million a year.

The rate change generated a huge outcry from existing solar customers and brought new rooftop installations to a standstill.

Browning called the decision “the worst loss the solar cause has suffered anywhere in the country.”

“As we saw yesterday, we’re on the path to righting it,” he said Tuesday while attending the Solar Power Industry trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Sean Gallagher is vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group that helps put on the annual SPI convention, now in its 13th year.

Gallagher pointed to polling that shows Nevada residents overwhelmingly support a transition to renewable energy. “They want to take control of their power bills and use their private property to generate electricity,” he said.

The future of rooftop solar in Nevada is expected to be a major policy issue for the 2017 Legislature. If lawmakers won’t take up the cause, voters could force the issue through a ballot initiative, Gallagher said.

Elected leaders, consumers, utility officials and regulators in Nevada need to come together on a mutually beneficial way to give customers what they want, he said, because the change is coming one way or another.

“It is not in anyone’s best interest to stand in the way of that happening,” Browning added. “A business plan founded on not giving your customers what they want is untenable.”

What’s holding solar back in Nevada is entirely a matter of policy, he said. Once the state gets the regulatory framework right, Nevada can expect to see its solar industry ramp back up “the very next day.”

“It’s like an on-off button,” Browning said. “The technology works. All we have to do is use it.”

There was no shortage of technology on display Tuesday in the exhibit hall at the SPI conference. Roughly 650 vendors — many of them with “solar” or “sun” in their names — showed off panels of various shape, thickness and finish. Others demonstrated tracking systems to help panels follow the sun across the sky and brackets to keep them from falling off the roof.

An electric motorcycle, a solar-powered car and a computer-guided construction vehicle specially designed to clear land and dig holes for rows of photovoltaic panels also were showcased. A few of the fancier exhibit booths offered thick carpeting, upstairs seating areas and open bars.

Even Gallagher said he has trouble keeping up with all the innovation.

“I work in the industry, and I see dozens of companies I’ve never heard of. And these are big companies,” he said.

Browning said this year’s conference, with its roughly 17,000 participants, also highlights what he called the “intense professionalization” the solar industry has undergone in the decade or so since he attended his first SPI trade show.

“I remember one of the first ones was in a dingy ballroom in Reno,” he said. “It was a bunch of guys in tie-dye shirts.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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