With just hours remaining in the 2017 legislative session, the Nevada State Senate has approved a bill to boost the state's renewable energy target to 40 percent by 2030. The bill (AB 206) now goes to the Assembly for a final vote, before heading to the governor's desk.
Clean energy advocates believe that increasing the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and expanding investments in renewable energy, has the potential to bring billions of dollars into Nevada's economy and create tens of thousands of additional jobs.
Natural gas currently makes up roughly 70 percent of Nevada's electricity mix, sending about $700 million out of state each year to purchase fossil fuels, according to a recent report by ICF International, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council. A higher renewable energy standard keeps more of those dollars at home.
“Over the last few years Nevada's clean energy leadership has really been challenged,” said Vote Solar's Jessica Scott, in an interview. “Nevada’s renewable energy standard was last substantially changed in 2009, and is currently set to cap at 25 percent clean energy by 2025. Since then, the cost of renewable energy, especially solar, has fallen dramatically, and other states across the country have set aggressive new clean energy standards. So this is really an important step for Nevada to reclaim its status as a clean energy leader.”
AB 206 initially sought to increase the target to 50 percent by 2040, and put the state on a pathway to reach 80 percent renewable energy by 2040, but those targets could not win widespread support.
The Senate voted 12-9 along party lines in favor of a revised bill today, following several weeks of intense negotiations and back room meetings due to opposition from the Nevada Resort Association (NRA), a powerful trade group representing the state's gaming industry.
Pushback from the casinos came as a surprise to clean energy advocates who recently backed several casinos in their effort to leave NV Energy's monopoly, in order to procure their own electricity on the open market. The resorts claimed that they were leaving the utility in large part because they wanted to procure more, competitively-priced renewable energy.
However, the NRA came out in staunch opposition to AB 206 this spring, citing a variety of concerns from negative effects on energy prices to whether lawmakers could mandate a renewable energy goals for companies outside of NV Energy’s purview. Last month, the NRA introduced an amendment that would exempt resorts and casinos from the proposed increase to Nevada's RPS.
“It was really disappointing for some of the same companies that were just talking about the value of clean energy … to come out and oppose that bill,” said Andy Maggi, director of the Nevada Conservation League.
It's likely that NRA members still want to purchase renewables, but they do not want a requirement. However, exempting casinos from Nevada's renewable energy mandate would severely undercut the state's renewable energy ambitions, especially if Nevada moves ahead with plans to deregulate the state's electricity sector. If gaming companies are permitted to buy renewables without any guidelines, it could increase procurement costs for other Nevada customers.
GTM contacted the NRA for comment several times, but never received a comment regarding AB 206. In April, NRA President Virginia Valentine wrote a letter to lawmakers that said, “we are concerned that this bill may be too much and too soon.”
In a significant move, MGM Resorts broke from the NRA, and came out in support of increasing the RPS last month. Dozens of other big businesses, including Levi’s, Dignity Health, Unilever, Tesla, Switch and Zappos, also expressed support for AB 206.
While the details are still emerging, it appears that Nevada stakeholders have reached a compromise by lowering the target to 40 percent by 2030. The Assembly is expected to concur with the senate version of AB 206 later today, and Governor Brian Sandoval is expected to sign the bill within the next week.
Meanwhile, the Nevada Legislature has passed a bill restoring net energy metering, marking an enormous win for residential solar companies. Lawmakers are also considering a bill today — the last day of session — that would implement a community solar program in Nevada.
We will update this story as more information becomes available.