Call it a “tree-hugger” convention or a political rally, but the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0, held Aug. 24 at Mandalay Bay, was clearly a vehicle used to keep the solar bandwagon moving across the country.
Or should I say, in the case of Nevada, to start the bandwagon moving again.
The elephant in the room was the recent Nevada net metering cap that had been reached three days before the start of the conference, throwing Nevada’s over 6,000 solar workers into panic mode.
President Barack Obama, feeling refreshed from his recent vacation, was greeted with a standing ovation and enthusiastic applause when he took the stage to deliver the closing address.
Not wasting any time, one of his initial comments was clearly directed toward NV Energy.
“It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market,” Obama said. “It’s another thing if you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working, and people want to buy it, and suddenly you’re not for it any more. That’s a problem.”
The president announced that his administration will seek to expand access to a loan program that allows homeowners to get up-front financing for clean-energy or energy-efficient home upgrades, and then pay it off over many years as part of their property taxes.
“We’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on the roof with no up-front cost,” Obama said.
During his 30-minute speech, Obama remarked that “distributed” generation is sweeping the country as more and more homes install solar panels and, more recently, contemplate backing them up with home batteries. “The real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize that they can take more control over their own energy,” he said.
Obama also took advantage of this occasion to focus attention on his administration’s flagship climate change solution, the EPA’s recently completed Clean Power Plan, which depends upon the strong growth of clean energy.
The plan requires states to cut emissions through a mix of options that include greatly increasing the amount of electricity they get from wind, solar and other renewable sources.
However, 15 states, including West Virginia and Wyoming, have filed suit seeking an “emergency stay” of the rule, which they call “clearly unlawful.”
Sen. Harry Reid, the summit’s organizer and host for the past eight years, took several opportunities during the event to bemoan that Nevada is the first state to reach the limit on net metering, commenting on both the state of the current utility grid and efforts by utilities across the country to abandon or revise net metering regulations.
“Our electric grid has barely changed in a century, but that is quickly coming to an end. American demand for clean, reliable power choices is forcing change that is accelerating,” said Reid. “It is clear that distributed energy, energy storage, other sources of electricity and efficiency, are competing with utility-scale power plants as they should, and indeed the facts cannot be ignored. U.S. solar has increased 418 percent since 2010, and more than half of this increase comes in the form of solar panels on homes and businesses. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have authorized net metering, and nearly 60 percent of our utilities across the country are currently reviewing their net metering policies.”
A debate on the “Future of Rooftop Solar” — featuring Charles Cicchetti of Pacific Economic Group representing the rooftop solar contingent, and Lisa Wood of Edison Foundation speaking for the public utilities — captured the attention of attendees when they took opposing positions. Rose McKinney-James, managing principal of Energy Works Consulting and McKinney-James & Associates, moderated the debate with questions that were crafted to bridge the opinion gap. Despite her efforts to reach some common ground, the debate ended in a stand-off, reminiscent of the real world debates that are taking place in Congress.
Despite the rather negative vibe and the silent protest of T-shirts and signs reading “Save Our Solar,” NV Energy’s CEO Paul Caudill was on the agenda to introduce a panel discussion of “Energy in the Information Age.” Caudill received moderate applause during his short introduction when he spoke about the various state-wide geothermal and solar projects in place and the partnership with First Solar to develop the new 100-megawatt grid-tied Switch Station that will be constructed and operated at costs that are being recognized industrywide as among the lowest seen in the United States.
Whether it was a result of the conference, pressure from politicians and the people, or simply the logical decision to be made at the moment, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission made a ruling three days after the summit, to extend the current net metering program until an alternative recommendation can be made at the end of 2015.