Feeling lucky! Nevada goes all in for rooftop solar

Since the start of the 2009 legislative session we fought hard to expand the distributed generation (DG) solar market opportunity in Nevada.  Today we can officially celebrate a major victory with the announcement that NV Energy, the state’s main utility, will be greatly expanding incentives to bring online more rooftop solar.

A little background. In 2009 we had ambitious plans to add a specific DG solar requirement  to the state’s renewable energy goal, which would have brought online almost 200 megawatts (MW) of solar by 2025. Not everyone (ahem, a certain major Nevada utility that shall remain nameless) liked this mandatory policy approach, and what emerged from the legislature was a compromise to expand capacity in the state’s solar rebate program – known as the SolarGenerations program (Click here to read about the legislation that passed).

For the last five months we advocated at the Public Utility Commission (PUCN) to encourage the Commissioners to craft program rules that streamlined, modernized and expanded the program to make it workable for solar contractors, and more accessible to NV Energy’s customers.  We are happy to announce that the PUCN voted today 3 to 0 to adopt an expansion plan that incorporates almost all of Vote Solar’s suggestions (listen to the proceeding here).  Commissioner Wagner should be commended for her tireless efforts to bring the stakeholders towards consensus on many sticky issues.  Also, serious kudos to the Solar Alliance, Hamilton Solar, The City of Reno and Black Rock Solar for their helpful and sustained participation in this arena.

Under the PUCN plan almost 40 MW of solar could be rebated in the next few years – a major increase from the utility’s original plan.  Over 23 MW of solar rebates will be available starting in 2010 (see below for more detail on rebate dispersal).

To put this win in perspective, the SolarGenerations program started in 2004, and to date only 3.66 MW have been rebated.  To the utility’s credit, the program has been picking up stream, and this last year we saw a major jump in the awarding of solar rebates.  However, the program was limited by inflexible annual kilowatt capacity caps and was plagued by a boom and bust ultra-fast application period that filled up each year in less than a day.  Vote Solar looks forward to working with NV Energy staff and other stakeholders to help get this newly revamped rebate program up and running by early Spring.

Highlights from the New SolarGenerations Guidelines:

Program Structure and Megawatt Capacity: The regulations turn the program into a 5-step declining rebate program (similar to the California Solar Initiative). Beginning in 2010, 23.42 MWs worth of rebates can be applied for by NV Energy customers. The regulation specifically states that the 10 MWs of un-rebated capacity from previous years shall be additional to the capacity starting in step 1. The other 13.42 MWs is capacity from steps 1 through 3, which will be released in succession at the MW reservation targets are hit.  The program is still divided into three categories of projects, each with differing capacity limits: residential and small commercial, schools, and public buildings.

Awarding of Rebates in Step 1-3: Beginning in 2010, Steps 1 through 3 can be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis until the capacity limits are reached.  However, the rebates for steps 2 and 3 will not be paid out to customers until 2011 and 2012 respectively.  NV Energy will be required to issue a confirmed rebate notice, which companies should be able to use to secure capitol to complete projects.

Rebate Levels: Residential rebates will begin at $2.30 per watt in step 1, declining by $0.20 cents per step. Schools and Public Buildings start at $5.00 per watt in step 1, declining by $0.10 per step.

Start Date of Revamped Program: The step 1 start date was left to the discretion of NV Energy in their annual plan. However NV Energy stated in the public record that they plan to release rebates in April.

Application Approval: First-come, first served method.  NV Energy must approve or deny an application within 30 days. The utility is hoping to start the new program in early April.

Signed Contract: To apply for a rebate a customer must have signed a contract with a solar installer.

Completion Timeline: All categories of projects need be completed within 12 months. However schools and public building will be given an initial 90 day period to submit a “checklist” approved by the Commission documenting progress towards project completion.

System Size Limits: NV Energy shall be able to determine individual system size limits in the annual plan.  However at the workshop we came to a verbal agreement with the utility that residential customers could receive rebate for up to 10 kilowatt (kW) systems, while public agencies could receive a rebate for up to a 100 kW system.  Systems on school will remain at 50 kW with the ability of a school district to petition for an exemption to rebate up to 100 kW.  Small commercial projects will be capped at 30 kW as to not eat up the entire combined residential/small commercial category capacity limit.

Revamped Website: NV Energy is required to keep an updated website to indicate total kWs available in each step and each category, including kWs newly available due to reallocations.  This information should be real-time, at the least updated weekly. (We need to make sure that this accurately reflects unspent previous allocation when the website is published!)

Contractor List: NV Energy shall maintain a “best practices” guide for selecting a contractor, at a minimum including the contact information for the Nevada State Contractors board.  The utility also will keep a “10 Tips for Making Sure Your Contractor is on the Level” document on the website.

Contractor License: Solar installations must be completed by a contractor with a C-2 license with the appropriate sub classification by the Nevada State Contractors Board pursuant to regulations adopted by the Board.