The next time you are flying in or out of McCarran International
Airport, Las Vegas, take a look at the valley that spreads just
southeast of the city. Over there, just behind the mountain range
that rims the edge of Las Vegas, lies El Dorado Solar Energy Zone
– the epicenter of Nevada's solar revolution and the
future of green energy in Nevada. Massive, industrial-scale solar
fields are already covering parts of that valley and more will be
springing up soon.
While rooftop solar installers Sunrun and SolarCity were busy
lobbying the Nevada Legislature, needlessly attacking the
state's Public Utilities Commission (PUCN), and trying to
convince the world that net metering does not lead to a cost shift,
a collaboration between utility-scale solar developers, NV Energy,
and a number of innovative companies was quietly changing
Nevada's energy mix and leading the state's green energy
A mechanism developed by NV Energy and approved by the PUCN
allows environmentally-conscious companies to, in effect, sponsor
large renewable energy projects to the benefit of all Nevadans.
With the assistance from Apple Inc. and Switch, Ltd., NV Energy
partnered up with utility-scale solar developers, such as First
Solar, Sun Power, and Techren Solar, to build large solar arrays.
Through competition, technological advances, and without ratepayer
assistance, these large-scale solar developers cut costs and
figured out a way to provide renewable energy to the grid for as
low as $31.15/MWh. For comparison, to be an economical investment,
Sunrun's and SolarCity's rooftop solar systems require
retail rate compensation for the energy they supply to the grid.
The residential retail rate in Nevada hovers around 10₵/kWh,
which equates to $100/MWh or about three times the price of
Nevada ratepayers are the main beneficiaries of the
collaboration between the likes of Apple, First Solar, and NV
Energy. Since NV Energy's power purchase agreements with First
Solar, Sun Power, and Techren are a direct pass-through cost to
Nevada ratepayers (meaning, NV Energy charges ratepayers exactly
what it pays and makes no profit on the transactions), Nevada
ratepayers receive the benefit of renewable energy at
record-breaking low prices. However, in light of Apple and Switch
defraying some of the costs of large-scale solar projects, the cost
for ratepayers goes down even more.
The success that NV Energy and utility-scale solar were able to
achieve is hard to ignore. From Sun Power's solar projects in
El Dorado Solar Energy Zone to First Solar's PV arrays north of
Las Vegas to the Crescent Dunes solar field outside of Tonopah, NV
Energy's fleet of solar plants is set to reach 700 MW of
capacity. With the addition of Techren Solar Energy Project, that
generation capacity will increase to 1,000 MW. When accounting for
NV Energy's geothermal, hydro (excluding Hoover Dam), wind, and
biomass generation, NV Energy is capable of supplying the grid with
1,700 MW of renewable energy. That is over a quarter of all
generation needed to serve Southern Nevada's summer peak load.
For a comparison, the rooftop solar fight that has been dragging on
for about two years now is over roughly 200 MW of generation
The 1,000 MW of utility-scale solar capacity is or will be added
to NV Energy's grid without demagoguery, without public attacks
on members of the PUCN, and without hostile PR tactics because it
simply makes sense. It makes sense from the economic,
environmental, fuel diversity, and even reliability standpoints.
Unless, the rooftop solar industry finally figures out how to slash
costs for its products and/or comes up with an economical storage
technology, large-scale solar is the way of the future. It simply
makes sense, and we can only hope that politics will not get in the
With a proposal before the Nevada Legislature to
increase the state's renewable portfolio standard to 80 percent
by 2040, the future is bright for Nevada's renewable generation
industries. So the next time someone tells you that solar is dead
in Nevada, do not believe them. Tell them to get high up in the
air, just over the mountain range that rims the southeastern edge
of Las Vegas, and look down at the valley that spreads below
peppered with massive solar arrays.
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