Solar companies push for clean energy legislation

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Nevada lawmakers are considering several bills that will help revitalize the state's solar industry. It's an industry that took a hit after December 2015 PUC decision that changed net metering regulations and made rooftop solar economically unfeasible for a lot of consumers.

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"We went through that economic downturn and then things finally started turning around in 2014 and 2015," said Louise Helton of 1 Sun Solar Electric. "We were all doing well, hiring great people, paying good wages; things couldn't have been better."

That was the case for a lot of Nevada solar companies a few years ago.

"Rooftop solar was growing at an insane rate; at the beginning of 2015 we had 3,000 systems installed and we ended the year at almost 20,000 installed," said Casey Coffman of Sunworks Solar Power.

Things were much different after the new rules went into affect after the December 2015 decision.

"I believe we did 28 installations in Nevada in 2016," Coffman said.

Helton says her company was able to stay in business because they were diversified; they've focused on electrical, stone and tile work in the past few years and managed to stay in business. She says that's not the case for others in the business.

"Solar business plummeted; its virtually, to a company, everyone experienced a 95 percent drop in business," she said. "Thousands of jobs went away, companies disappeared, I can't tell you how many of my colleagues have been casualties of this."

AB 405 is a bill under consideration that would help restore Nevada's rooftop solar industry. Representatives from companies like these were at the State Legislature on Wednesday to talk to lawmakers about how it could help revive their businesses.

"It allows us to have a measured net metering opportunity that will provide for the rebirth of the industry," Helton said. "And they've been forward thinking, so they've planned for what's going to happen when we do have a lot more solar on rooftops and the market penetration is greater. It has some wonderful steps that will allow net metering to continue without having any consequences for people that don't have solar."

Other bills under consideration would increase the amount of renewable energy supplied by utilities and develop community solar programs.

"Nevada has an opportunity to be a clean energy leader," said Jessica Scott of Vote Solar. "It's a beautiful, cloudless day, free sunshine is falling on us and we just need the opportunity to harness that, put it to work and create local jobs."

A vote on these bills is expected later this week.