Some Nevada Businesses Turning to Solar

New law could make going solar financially feasible

Published: 11-Jan-2004

businesses are starting to turn to the sun for power needs and more should consider it because of a new law adopted last year, industry experts say.

Las Vegas Solar Electric recently completed installing the state's largest ever solar photovoltaic system, which converts sunlight directly into direct current.

The 215-kilowatt solar system was installed on the roof of an expanded Your Vitamins manufacturing plant in Henderson. The electricity produced by the installation will be used at the facility or sold to Nevada Power's system for the benefit of other customers.

In addition, under Assembly Bill 296, enacted last year, Your Vitamins, which is owned by Andrew Lessman, can sell credits to Nevada Power Co. for the renewable power it produces.

Nevada Power then can use the credits to satisfy requirements that it obtain an increasing portion of its electricity from so-called renewable sources, which include sun and wind power.

Matt Ryba, chief executive of TWC Construction, another Lessman company, said Lessman installed the solar power system because of "social concerns" about being an environmentally friendly business. "And he hopes to inspire others to take the same step."

He pointed out that Your Vitamins makes vitamins from purely natural materials, without additives.

"It doesn't stand on its two feet as a financially prudent business transaction," said Ryba, who crunched the numbers for Lessman. "You've got to have another reason than financial to do this."

Some disagree with his assessment on the financial viability of photovoltaic solar systems.

Jordan Robins, a partner at Las Vegas Solar, estimated the electricity from Your Vitamins' solar system will cost about the same as electricity bought at today's rates from Nevada Power. It will lock in that cost over the 25-year guaranteed life of the panels.

Gary Wayne, director of Berkley, Calif.-based Powerlight, which made the installation system for the solar panels, said Assembly Bill 296 makes photovoltaic solar systems economically viable for more companies.

Steven Boss, who formerly operated Nevada Energy Buyers Network and has moved his law practice to the Los Angeles area, agreed that the new law could make photovoltaic solar systems financially feasible.

While Nevada Power can satisfy its renewable energy use requirements by buying from its own or other companies' renewable power plants, it also can buy credits from others with green power production.

Under the new law, the value of each kilowatt hour produced from a renewable fuel on a customer's business site qualifies for 2.4 times the normal credits from a remotely located power plant.

Ryba said Your Vitamins has spoken to Nevada Power about the sale of credits but has no contract.

Nevada Power is probably the only customer for those credits in Southern Nevada, Wayne said.

If state regulators and Nevada Power were to facilitate the exit of large power users from Nevada Power's regulated system, the suppliers of these large users also would be customers for the credits, making the credits more valuable, Boss said.

Meanwhile, "Natural gas units are the best combination of efficiency and environmental cleanliness," Boss said.

Wayne mentioned other reasons that make it valuable to the community to have photovoltaic plants installed on the commercial customers' premises:

• The onsite systems avoid the loss of an estimated 10 percent of power due to transmission line resistance, because the power is used at the site, rather than at a remote location.

• Numerous small power systems are more reliable than one large, centralized power plant.

• Onsite power generation is less likely to fail because of sabotage and will have little impact than power coming from remote plants over long transmission lines.

Robins mentioned another benefit. According to analysis by Paragon Consulting Services, one gallon of water is consumed for every kilowatt hour produced at a conventional utility power plant. That water would be saved with photovoltaic solar systems.

Robins predicted more businesses will install photovoltaic systems, "because it makes good business sense for the long term and it also is an investment in the common good."

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