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February 29, 2016

Solar energy debate in Nevada heats up

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Essential question

As demand for clean sources of energy grows, how will that affect conventional sources of energy?


A debate has emerged between solar companies and Nevada’s Public Utility Commission which recently increased the rates customers pay for solar energy.

In a state that sees 300 days of sunshine a year, the use of rooftop solar panels in Nevada increased by more than 400 percent from 2014 to 2015 with the help of state and federal incentives.

The controversy centers on how to regulate rates associated with net energy metering which allows rooftop solar customers to gain credit for the excess energy they send back to the grid during sunny weather.

Net metering customers were not sharing in the costs of running the electric utility’s system, “the pipes and the wires that get the electricity to your home,” according to Anne-Marie Cuneo, staff director of Regulatory Operations for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

But solar advocates say the traditional power companies have other motives for the rate increases.

“The utility monopolies are saying, ‘well, wait a minute, we’ve got to crush [solar] before it gets too big.’ And that’s what’s happening now,” said Marco Krapels, executive vice president for Strategy and Structured Finance at Solar City.

In December, Nevada’s Public Utility Commission increased the basic connection solar panel fee and reduced the value of the credit that homeowners receive for excess energy in order to help close the gap between non-solar and solar customers.


Key terms

public utility — an organization supplying a community with electricity, gas, water or sewerage

net metering — a system in which solar panels or other renewable energy generators are connected to a public utility power grid and surplus power is transferred onto the grid, allowing customers to offset the cost of power drawn from the utility

monopoly — the exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What are some forms of energy besides oil and gas?
  2. What is solar power?
  3. Why has there been a push for more alternative energy in recent years?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Should customers who paid to have solar panels installed on their property with the goal of reducing their energy costs be forced to “share” distribution costs with the power company?
  2. Will the new rate changes effect utility bills for Nevada residents who do not have solar panels?
  3. Why does the federal government offer rebates to people installing solar panels on their property?
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