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Solar decision impacts some institutions like City of Reno and WCSD

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Solar rooftop customers aren't the only ones impacted by a recent decision made by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. Some institutions including the City of Reno and the Washoe County School District are discovering they too are affected.

The new math following the January 1, 2016 change to net metering rates means less than anticipated energy savings as well as longer times to recoup millions of dollars worth of solar investments.

Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr said, "We're standing in front of the Moana Fire Station because this is the location of one of the City's 14 solar installations."

Duerr said half of those 14 solar systems, or seven, are impacted by the new, higher rates. She said, "We were expecting savings of about $1.6-to-$3 million dollars over the life of the system. It now looks like this may cut our savings by $80-to-$100,000 dollars, at least in that ballpark."

The Ward 2 Council member said the City is still analyzing the impact. Meanwhile the City's Sustainability Officer, Lynne Barker estimates the reduced savings may be lower, perhaps $50-to-$55,000. Barker said the City has invested $4.1 million in its solar systems. Barker added that some of that investment is offset through federal stimulus funds and solar rebates. The investment by the Washoe County School District is even higher. Jason Geddes, with the District said it was in the neighborhood of $20 million also adding some of the offsets due to federal funds and rebates.

Both Geddes and Duerr are closely watching this situation adding there is an upcoming General Rate Case before the PUC they said is worrisome. Duerr said the Council approved a couple of her proposals this week that get the City more involved in solar rate decisions. She said the City will get very involved in the upcoming rate case adding, "That starts June first so we have to get our ducks in a row."

Duerr also said the Council approved the direction to try a regional approach. She said, "They authorized staff to contact Washoe County, Sparks and the School Board to see if we want to do this together."

The Council member also said staff will get involved in the Nevada Sustainability Coalition and attend meetings of the Governor's New Energy Industry Task Force. The City is also preparing for the next session of the Nevada Legislature. Duerr said, "Again, we have to have our ducks in a row and be prepared to recommend some things to the legislature."

Geddes said the school district has 39 solar systems at 35 schools. He said at least two of the systems are impacted by the new, higher rates. However, he said analysis is still underway to determine if as many as six systems are impacted. He added if that happens it will take a bite out of the District's anticipated savings. However, he said he was more concerned about the upcoming General Rate case adding, "There is no way to know which direction on solar the PUC will take."


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