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Electricians David Livingston, left, and Mario Rojas with 1 Sun Solar inspect solar panels in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nearly two years after an ambitious attempt to increase Nevada’s renewable energy production went down in flames, lawmakers are again considering a measure to raise the state Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030.

Introduced late Monday by Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks, SB358 would increase the state’s current renewable standard growth from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030 — the same concept vetoed by former Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2017 but approved at the ballot by nearly 60 percent of voters in the 2018 election.

Brooks said he didn’t want to wait through another election cycle to see an increase in the portfolio standard, and called the RPS “the number one way” to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewable energy generation.

“I introduced it two years ago, it should have passed and been enacted two years ago, and I’m not going to wait two more years for a ballot initiative to be voted on and then acted in 2022 as part of the ballot initiative,” he said. “The people of Nevada clearly wanted this two years ago.”

The measure has been highlighted by clean energy advocates and Democratic lawmakers as a major legislative priority ever since Sandoval’s veto.

“Setting a higher Renewable Portfolio Standard is critical to advancing Nevada’s clean energy economy, improving air pollution, and fighting climate change,” Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi said in a statement.

Opportunities for the bill’s success appear more likely in 2019; Gov. Steve Sisolak pledged to support an RPS increase to 50 percent in his State of the State address and more recently signed the state on to a multistate alliance to reduce carbon emissions. Democrats, who control both legislative chambers, unanimously supported the measure in 2017.

But a Renewable Portfolio Standard is slightly more complex than mandating a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources. Like a “cap-and-trade” program for carbon emissions, an RPS is, in essence, a state-created marketplace where utilities and power plants earn Portfolio Energy Credits (PECs) for the generation of renewable energy from solar, wind or geothermal sources. A PEC is equal to one kilowatt-hour of generated electricity, equivalent to a 100-watt television running for 10 hours.

What an RPS does is require utilities and certain other entities to generate or obtain a certain number of PECs equal to a percentage of their total electric generation — in theory ensuring that a certain percentage of electricity generated comes from renewable sources. The state Public Utilities Commission runs a marketplace where PECs can be sold or transferred, and entities are allowed to “roll over” unused credits for use in future years.

But raising the RPS isn’t necessarily a guarantee that renewable energy generation will see an equal increase; NV Energy reported a 24 percent clean energy portfolio in 2017, but the company’s actual renewable fuel mix was closer to 18 percent renewable and 76 percent natural gas.

Although the overarching aim of the bill is similar to the 2017 legislation and the proposed constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018, the bill does contain a few variations. Unlike in 2017, the bill does include any bonus credits for renewable energy generated by geothermal plants, and continues an expected phase out of RPS credits for energy efficiency programs.

NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon told lawmakers last month that the utility would support a 50 percent RPS (a concept the utility was neutral on in 2017), but noted that the utility would like to see hydropower be credited towards the renewable standard and the continued inclusion of energy efficiency measures in the RPS.

In addition to the change in governors and NV Energy, Brooks said he believed the bill would win new supporters this session amid declining prices in large-scale solar costs poking holes in the fear that committing the state to increased renewable generation would lead to higher power bills.

“The folks who opposed it based on pricing last time were wrong, and it’s pretty obvious they were wrong,” he said. “And the pricing has come down even more dramatically than was anticipated in the last couple of sessions, and I think that right there has changed a lot of minds.”

The bill would raise the RPS to 22 percent by 2020, and gradually increase the standard over that next decade:

  • 24 percent by 2021
  • 29 percent by 2022 through 2023
  • 34 percent by 2024 through 2026
  • 42 percent by 2027 through 2029
  • 50 percent by 2030

The bill allows utilities and other entities required to meet the RPS to use a three-year rolling average which includes the previous two years when determining their compliance with the standard.

Like the 2017 version of the bill, SB358 also requires businesses that have left NV Energy as an electric customer comply with the RPS; current law only requires them to meet the renewable standard in place at the time they departed the utility. It also requires electric cooperatives and municipal power districts (such as Lincoln County Power District and Overton Power District) to meet the RPS standards once they report more than 1 million megawatt hours in sales.

The measure also requires that electric utilities such as NV Energy include in their triennial Integrated Resource Plan (a state-mandated planning document for the utility’s future supply and demand) information on the construction or expansion of transmission facilities that can be built within areas to “expedite or facilitate” renewable energy generation.

It further allows utilities to acquire an existing or in development renewable energy plant without approval from the Public Utilities Commission under certain circumstances, as long as the utility does not add the cost of acquiring the plant to its base electric rate and instead charges a “just and reasonable price” to its customers for the renewable power.

Lawmakers created an initial RPS in 1997, and in 2009 passed a law raising the standard to 25 percent by 2025. Thirteen jurisdictions have a higher RPS than Nevada, including Hawaii (100 percent by 2045), California (100 percent by 2045) and Vermont (75 percent by 2032). New Jersey, New York and Oregon have set 50 percent RPS targets by 2030, while Maryland has a 40 percent target by 2030, Colorado has a 30 percent target by 2020 and Connecticut has a 27 percent target by 2020.

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