Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

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Utilities commission advances plan for using solar energy

CARSON CITY – Another step has been taken to entice homeowners, businesses and governments to use solar energy to heat water and buildings.

The state Public Utilities Commission has approved final regulations for the Solar Thermal Systems Demonstration Program, aimed at getting 3,000 users to convert by 2019.

Those who join the program will get rebates for installing the system.

“This is empowering ratepayers to have more control over future energy use,” said PUC Commissioner Rebecca Wagner, the prime mover in developing the regulation adopted Wednesday.

Depending on the size of a home and water usage, a system can cost anywhere from $6,000 and $8,000. The homeowner could receive a rebate of up to 30 percent but no more than $3,000, she said.

Sen. Michael A. Schneider, D-Las Vegas, who introduced a bill in the 2009 Legislature to start the program, said it was an attempt to jumpstart the green industry and to give breaks on utility bills.

Wagner said NV Energy and Southwest Gas will be the administrators of the program.

Wagner said there are two types of units – one to heat water and the other to blow hot air to warm the house, business or government office.

The PUC wants to make sure only responsible contractors will be able to install the units. Wagner said in the 1970s and 1980s there were solar collectors installed on roofs to heat water.

“What happened were the contractors were bad actors and it received a black eye,” Wagner said. “This is another opportunity to harness a renewal energy source.”

Wagner said it’s unknown how popular this will be. To supply rebates to customers, the two utilities would have to raise rates. But she said it’s not known how much, if any, natural gas rates have to be increased.

She said she wants the utilities to design a program “to get the best bang for the buck. It doesn’t have to be overly expensive,” she said, adding that approving the regulation was the first step.

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