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Utility-scale Solar Won't Kill Rooftop, Insiders Say

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Associated Press
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Electric power plants currently produce 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases. And Nevada lawmakers want 50 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. 

Massive solar arrays are being developed around Nevada in response to the state’s shift away from fossil fuels. But does all that renewable electricity have to come from utility-scale solar? How about rooftop solar? Does it have a role to play?

Marta Tomic of Vote Solar told KNPR's State of Nevada that renewable energy from several different places will be needed to reach the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

“When we think about getting there, we really need renewable energy investments at all scales to ensure that opportunities are available for everyone to participate in the clean energy economy," she said.

Nevada State Senator Chris Brooks agreed. He believes both types of energy are vital to a clean energy future.

“The fundamental difference between utility-scale projects and a rooftop solar project, besides the technology and the size, is one lives on the customer side of the meter and the other one lives on the utility side of the meter,” he said.

Rooftop solar collapsed in Nevada few years ago after a dispute over net metering, which is the rate power companies pay for the extra energy rooftop solar arrays return to the grid.

Brooks said the Legislature was able to pass new laws for the industry and get it back to a healthy status. 

“We saw hundreds of jobs return overnight,” he said.

He estimated that in the two years since the industry was revived 40,000 ratepayers have turned to solar. 

Now, as large-scale solar arrays are being built around Nevada, some people have expressed concern about them being built on public land. They have argued that there is plenty of room on the built environment to generate that power without disturbing protected areas.

“I think that is completely unrealistic. A lot of the folks who say that I don’t think are necessarily basing it upon facts,” Brooks said. 

Both he and Tomic believe there should be an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to renewable energy.

“We need to build as many renewables as fast as possible to even be able to make a dent in the carbon reduction we need to try to avert a climate crisis,” Brooks said.

Tomic said there are a lot of benefits to incentivizing rooftop solar besides the obvious lowering of emissions, including that ratepayers have control of their own power generation, the reduction in the need for expensive power infrastructure and increasing the resiliency of the power grid.

“It might not be the biggest contributor to the clean energy pie but it really is an important piece,” she said.

(Editor's note: This discussion originally aired September 2019)

St. Sen.  Chris Brooks, D. - Dis. 3; Marta Tomic, Senior Director, Interior West for Vote Solar

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.