RENO, Nev. - (KOLO) The Nevada Legislature passed several bills this session that will make it easier and more cost effective to take advantage of solar energy. There are several programs and rebates that local businesses can take advantage of if they're interested in switching to solar. Local business leaders and energy experts held a forum on the subject at the Innevation Center in downtown Reno on Wednesday.
"Basically what we're trying to do as a community is demonstrate that buying local is a way to demonstrate a commitment to clean energy, and solar provides the perfect opportunity for that," said Kevin McGehee, a small business owner. "It provides job creation, business development, enhances national security, lessens our dependency on foreign oil and gives us clean air. With all those things how can you go wrong?"
Solar-related costs continue to drop as technology improves and more opportunities become available.
"When I was doing solar here in Nevada 20 years ago it was $25 a watt," said Paul Bony of Solar Energy International. "Now we're looking at prices under $3 a watt and the Federal Government wants to see solar costs get down eventually to $1 or $2 a watt."
As demand grows, more solar companies are moving into Northern Nevada. Next Energy has recently expanded into Reno.
"We expanded to Reno because of the net metering law that came into effect here in Nevada," said Randy Kauffman of Next Energy. 'Solar wouldn't be feasible without that net metering. This is a perfect opportunity to take advantage and bring the money back. If you're paying federal taxes, put that money back in your pocket, lower your operating costs, fix your cost of energy. There will be a time when the system is paid for, and these things will serve you for 25 or 30 years and beyond."
The biggest obstacle for businesses is capital but industry experts say there are some options out there.
"There's lots of money out there to finance solar at affordable rates and long terms and it makes it very easy for solar to be a positive cash flow proposition for businesses and homeowners," Bony said. "We're still in the peak of the federal tax credits which will start declining in 2020 but there's a lot of institutional capital ready to invest in solar projects for consumers today."
It's a model that's seen success here in Nevada. The Escape Adventures building in Las Vegas went net zero - meaning it creates all the energy needed to run it - back in 2012.
"At our current net-zero energy building we have no power bill; we haven't had one in five years," said Jared Fisher of Escape Adventures. "We've already made our money back on the investment and we did a second investment last year and that's on its way to net zeroing too. Solar has really come down in price and not only is it an important step for economic reasons but it's a great environmental step too."
It's a model solar advocates hope to grow.
"My hope is by building this business model for Nevada, we'll become a role model for everybody and people will want to follow what we're doing because they can actually see there's an economic value to this, along with all kinds of other benefits," Fisher said.