Nevada lawmakers pressed forward Wednesday with a package of bills they say will make homemade solar energy an affordable option once again for state residents.
The standout proposal would increase the amount of credit toward nighttime and cloudy-day power that residential solar users can get in exchange for sharing their rooftop solar energy with the state's power grid.
"There's thousands of people that want solar, but we need fair net metering rates for that to happen," Casey Coffman of Sunworks, a solar energy provider in Nevada, said of the credits system.
Assemblyman Justin Watkins' bill would immediately revert the solar benefit to the energy's retail value per kilowatt hour — a favorable rate compared to the progressively decreasing levels Nevada utility regulators implemented in late 2015. Last year, regulators restored the advantageous rate for a limited number of solar users in northern Nevada.
However, solar supporters say the industry remains in a tailspin statewide.
The 2015-16 changes effectively drove up the cost for residents to generate solar power, halting the state's previously booming home-solar industry and prompting hundreds of layoffs.
Two national solar companies, Sunrun and SolarCity, left the state and many smaller installation providers closed shop. Roughly 2,500 solar-related jobs evaporated. About 8,300 people are currently employed in the industry in Nevada, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Potential solar customers have been turned off, environmental advocate Brant Olson said.
"They don't know what to expect, they just know that things are not going well," he said.
The Public Utility Commission acknowledged in its 2016 revision that lowering the rates "all but crushed the rooftop solar industry in Northern Nevada," and that the commission's decision, "in several respects, may be best viewed as a promise better left unkept."
NV Energy, the state's monopolized energy provider, had argued that solar users are piggy-backing off the company's infrastructure for an alternative source of energy when the sun goes down, but not paying for it.
Pat Egan, of NV Energy, argued at the hearing for more controls over the returns on solar energy.
The company is also seeking certain resource distributions that Watkins said could delay the industry's revival.
Assembly Bill 270 was among five bills aimed at promoting renewable energies that lawmakers advanced to a full committee for consideration.
Other measures would require solar companies to make contracts clearer, allow multiple homes to share solar energy and speed up the state's move to renewables.
State law currently directs NV Energy and any other providers to generate 20 percent of retail electricity from renewable sources. That's set to increase to 25 percent by 2025.
Assembly Bill 206 would raise that bar, requiring those companies to generate 50 percent of electricity from solar, biomass, geothermal, water or wind power by 2030. The target would increase between four and six percent every two years until then.
It would also set an unenforceable goal for the state to reach 80 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2040.
NV Energy would prefer for the state to average its energy source amounts over three years and for targets to be postponed if regulators or developers delay construction of new solar or other renewable facilities, Egan said.
Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said hotel owners are concerned making too many changes too quickly could put the power grid at risk, especially during peak energy hours in Las Vegas.