Nevada is blessed with abundant renewable energy resources – particularly solar and geothermal. Recognizing the potential for the development of these indigenous resources, state lawmakers enacted the first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) a decade ago. After several years of modifying and improving the RPS, Nevada now has one of the most aggressive standards in the nation.
Under the RPS, Nevada Power Company and Sierra Pacific Power Company are required to purchase or acquire a certain percentage of renewable resources out of the total amount of energy supplied to their customers. Additionally, the RPS contains a provision that 5 percent of the requirement must come from solar energy. In 2005, the RPS was further modified to allow the utilities to utilize energy efficiency measures to help meet a portion of their portfolio. The utilities must achieve 20 percent of their total sales from renewable energy and energy efficiency measures by 2015.
Prior to the creation of the RPS, there were approximately 80 megawatts of geothermal power plants were operating in Northern Nevada. By 2009, that number is expected to more than double. While a large portion of renewable development is attributed to geothermal power plants, Nevada has two new utility-scale solar facilities that will begin commercial operations this year.
The Nevada Solar One facility is located in Boulder City. When completed, it will be the third largest solar power plant in the world. Nevada Solar One will be capable of generating 64 megawatts of electricity by heating tubes of liquid which run atop parabolic troughs. This project will produce enough electricity to power approximately 40,000 homes.
The Solar Star Nellis Air Force Base project also represents an impressive achievement in solar power generation for Nevada. The project consists of a single-axis-tracking photovoltaic array which will be capable of generating up to 18 megawatts of peak electricity.
In addition to utility-scale development of renewable resources, a number of programs have been designed to encourage individual customers to invest in renewable energy systems for their homes, businesses, public buildings and schools.
SolarGenerations is a project sponsored by the Nevada utilities which encourages the installation of photovoltaic systems on a small but broad scale. The program is designed for homes, businesses, public buildings and schools. Through a rebate program, customers are able to harness solar energy to reduce both the cost of electricity seen on monthly bills and the consumption of fossil fuels by the utilities.
Net metering is a system that allows those who contribute electricity to the grid from small generation systems to have their monthly power bills reduced according to their contributions to the grid. This system has been implemented by the Nevada Legislature in order to encourage the development of renewable generation systems on a small scale so that the financial benefits of clean energy generation can be had by those who directly contribute to the power grid.
The Green Power Program is a partnership between the Desert Research Institute and the utilities funded by utility customers who voluntarily add a few dollars to their utility bills each month. The program focuses on education as a vehicle for the development of renewables. This is accomplished by pairing the installation of photovoltaic solar systems on K-12 schools throughout Nevada with the education of the children who attend those schools about the systems.
With these projects and programs, it is clear that the shrewd foresight of Nevada’s citizens to aggressively invest in clean, renewable energy early is paying off in terms of the benefits of renewable energy systems. With continued emphasis and investment in power generation using the clean resources at our disposal, Nevada’s future will indeed be bright and clean.