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State thinks big on solar power

State thinks big on solar powerAs competing states dawdle, Nevada adds incentives for construction(By Alexander Berzon via Las Vegas Sun)Charged with reworking the state’s renewable energy policy, Assemblywoman

Marilyn Kirkpatrick had one major objective as she entered the legislative

session: Don’t give away the farm, er, the desert.Kirkpatrick was criticized after the 2007 session for working to give

lucrative tax breaks to casino companies in the guise of “green buildings.”She didn’t want a repeat.The North Las Vegas Democrat was operating in an environment that was at

once friendlier and tougher than ever for renewable energy development.The concept of moving away from fossil fuels and toward solar and

geothermal developments emerged over the past two years as an economic

salve. You only had to hear the words of President Obama nationally and

Sen. Harry Reid locally: “Green jobs” would transform the country and bring

it out of recession, they argued. With plentiful sun and plentiful land and

proximity to a state with a voracious appetite for renewable energy, Nevada

should benefit, they said.But then came the state budget crisis.Bigger-than-ever tax cuts for renewable energy companies would be a tough

sell.With the session now over and the state’s new energy policy in full view,

it’s fair to ask: Just what was accomplished?The answer is: quite a lot.Observers say Nevada has made itself into the most attractive state in the

sun-drenched West for large solar plant development. Utility-size

solargeneration plants in the desert, along with geothermal plants, got a

big boost this session.Jim Baak, director of utility-scale solar for the nonprofit advocacy group

Vote Solar, said Nevada was far more proactive than other sunny-state

legislatures this year. Texas called its legislative session the “Solar

Session” but still wasn’t able to pass productive new laws, said Baak, who

monitors solar issues in states. Florida became equally mired, he said.If some other objectives are met, large-scale solar is likely to become the

focus of renewable energy development in Nevada for at least the short

term, observers say. That should bring thousands of construction jobs to

the state with built-in wage requirements. Large-scale solar plants tend to

operate without a lot of employees once they’re up and running.Legislators had less to show in the way of providing incentives for

homeowners and others to install rooftop solar devices and for the

manufacturers of renewable energy equipment to build plants in Nevada. Both

tend to have many permanent jobs associated with them.Among moves made this session intended to spur renewable energy,

legislators:Extended and increased the portion of Nevada energy that must come from

renewable resources from 20 percent by 2015 to 25 percent by 2025. That

ensures an expanding appetite for renewable energy in the state.Extended

property tax abatements for renewable energy production plants, which were

to expire in this year, and expanded them from 50 percent for 10 years to

55 percent for 20 years.Allowed geothermal power plants to receive property

tax abatements.Created a renewable energy commission and transferred many

of the duties of the governor’s energy office to that body.Expanded the

program that offers rebates for households and businesses that put solar

panels on their rooftops and made changes in how the program is to be

operated.Rose McKinney-James, a longtime solar energy advocate in Nevada who lobbied

for rooftop solar companies this session, had hoped to enhance the

incentives to install rooftop photovoltaic panels and other forms of

so-called distributed energy generation. But the state’s main utility, NV

Energy, fought back and said that a new requirement could cost ratepayers —

and the company — too much.“We were having this discussion at a very difficult time,” McKinney-James

said. “Everybody recognized that they faced some very significant

challenge