NV Energy cites progress in meeting Nevada's renewables mandate

NV Energy, the Nevada utility that pressed regulators to eliminate the state’s net energy metering system, says it fully complied with the 2015 legislated renewable 20% mandate and continues to reduce dependence on coal.

NV Energy, part of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, achieved a 31.3% “renewable credit level” based on total energy sales in its northern Nevada service area and a 21.2% level in its southern service area that includes Las Vegas.

Kevin Geraghty, vice president of energy supply, asserts that complying with the mandate is important, but the utility’s motivation has been to be environmentally responsible and to keep costs to customers as low as possible.

NV Energy customers are served by 20 geothermal energy resources, 12 community-scale solar fields, a large wind farm in eastern Nevada and a dozen small hydro and biomass projects in the state.

It continues to “aggressively pursue” renewable energy opportunities that are in the best interests of its customers and that will help it comply with the state mandate that tops out at 25% in 2025.

The utility is now reviewing bids to acquire 35MW of nameplate renewable energy capacity and wants to procure an additional minimum 100MW.  

Two PV projects previously awarded long-term PPAs are in the early construction phase – the 150-megawatt Boulder Solar I and II projects near Boulder City and the 179-megawatt Switch Station 1 and 2 north of Las Vegas.

"In the past five years we've more than doubled our renewable energy capacity,” he says, noting electricity rates are lower today than they were five years ago.

According to Geraghty, NV Energy customers will soon benefit from new solar resources that are priced below 4 cents/kWh versus 15 cents/kWh for community-scale solar a decade ago.

By comparison, the company is currently required to pay 9.2 cents a kilowatt-hour for the excess power produced by private solar systems at individual homes, he says.

The utility has been embroiled in a high-profile dispute with the rooftop solar industry which alleges it is trying to kill off fast-growing distributed PV in the state.

In December, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued a controversial ruling to eliminate the NEM policy for both existing and new solar systems. That led SolarCity and several other prominent competitors to leave the state, costing hundreds of jobs.

NV Energy subsequently asked regulators to allow existing NEM customers to remain on the old rules for a transition period of up to 20 years. The PUC later did not fully grandfather them in prior to the 1 January rate change.

The commissioners said the new, lower rates are necessary to reduce solar rooftop subsidies. The electric utility industry has argued that traditional power consumers should not subsidize businesses and homeowners with solar systems and have to pay all costs of maintaining the grid.

Turning to coal, Geraghty, says NV Energy had cut use of coal for generation from more than 40% a decade ago to about 10% now. Plans call for eliminating it in southern Nevada by the end of 2019 and by 2025 in northern Nevada.