An NV Energy program to expand access to solar energy for low-income Nevadans and disadvantaged businesses is off to a solid start, a program administrator says, and is expected to continue to grow in the coming years.

Legislators passed legislation during the 2019 legislative session that essentially requires the monopoly energy company to establish a program to support community-based solar projects that are accessible to low-income customers without requiring them to install physical solar systems on-site. The program also guarantees low-income individuals lower rates than the existing net metering structure under state law.

Cynthia Alejandre, director of contract management and special programs at NV Energy, told lawmakers at the Joint Interim Committee on Growth & Infrastructure this week that the program has been in effect since Jan. 1 and will benefit nearly 2,000 customers, most of them low-income Households.

According to presentation documents, enrollment is currently:

  • 1,459 low-income customers who must have an income of no more than 80% of the area median income under US housing and urban development guidelines.
  • 444 “Eligible Residential Customers” who do not qualify for the low-income category but are unable to install solar panels on their homes due to physical or property restrictions.
  • 48 disadvantaged companies. These are defined as companies where at least 50% of the owners are women, veterans, members of a racial or ethnic minority or otherwise part of a traditionally underrepresented group. None of the owners may have net worth greater than $250,000.

These low-income customers represent 18,340 megawatt-hours—well below the government’s 100,000 megawatt-hour program capacity cap. Likewise, the megawatt-hours expected to be used by eligible premises and business customers represent only a small fraction of capacity.

At full capacity, the Expanded Solar Access Program could power more than 8,700 homes in the low-income category and more than 15,000 homes that are normally prohibited from installing solar panels because they are rented or have physical limitations (eg, condominiums) .

Alejandre told lawmakers on the committee that NV Energy plans to expand to more customers as the program grows. She added that the company learned a lot in the first round of marketing the program and soliciting applications.

“We are very motivated to increase this number,” said Alejandre, “but at the same time understand that it was the first program, the first run. As people start talking about them, sharing them with their families, showing them to their friends, I think we’re going to see a surge in those categories.”

Rep. Howard Watts (D-Clark) said he was encouraged by the program’s launch and praised the company for having “an easy process” for customers.

“Both of my parents actually applied for (the program) in two different categories and were accepted,” he added.

“Solar energy is a great technology,” Watts told the Current. “It’s the most effective power source there is, and it has the ability to lower bills.” But there were barriers to entry. Some people can rent. Some people may not have the option of having solar panels on their roof. Or they can’t afford it. That’s what really matters. As the technology grows and we benefit from it, those benefits will accrue to everyone.”

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved the NV Energy program in the summer, and the applications were accepted and reviewed in the fall.

NV Energy will continue to roll out new community-based solar resources this year that will generate energy for the program. State law requires the program to create at least six but no more than 20 solar resources evenly distributed across northern and southern Nevada.

The program’s pilot — a carport facility at Mojave High School in north Las Vegas — has been operational since December 21. It includes 1,012 solar panels capable of generating at least 773 megawatt hours per year.

The next two solar resources are expected to be at Freedom Park in southern Nevada and the Moana Center in northern Nevada, although negotiations are ongoing with the cities. These two locations were selected after a public nomination and voting phase in the fall. NV Energy hopes to have construction completed by October 2023.

A full report on the Expanded Solar Access Program must be submitted to the Legislature by March 1st.

NV Energy customers can find more details about the program at nvenergy.com/esap.