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Speaking of solar ...
by Heidi Kyser | posted August 23, 2014

Rooftop solar has been the subject of a lot of mainstream debate lately, most of it having to do with grid access and the role of individual homeowners  in a predominantly investor-owned utility game. But there’s another player that often gets overlooked: Co-ops. These member-owned, often-nonprofit power companies tend to do things a little differently.

A case in point is Valley Electric Association, the Pahrump-based utility founded in 1965 that serves 45,000 people over a 6,800-square-mile service area along the California-Nevada border — a drop in the bucket compared to NV Energy’s massive market. Responding to its members’ demands, Valley has been aggressively pursuing a pro-renewables agenda, including joining the California ISO system, which gives it the necessary grid access to export renewable energy created in Nevada to California. And Valley’s efforts aren’t all utility-scale, either. The association has a range of programs to help individual members go solar at home. 

In June of this year, Valley hired Chris Brooks, a local pioneer in the solar energy movement, to lead its distributed generation programs (among other duties). Brooks told Desert Companion his plans for his first year on the job. The following excerpt, as told to Heidi Kyser, shows how a smallish company with a limited consumer base can get ahead of the curve on service innovations.

Our primary motivation is not profit, but to take care of our members. So, in response to their demand, we’ve offered them every alternative that’s out there for going solar at a lower price than an outside for-profit entity can do it. …

We're going to structure a metering program that won't be net metering as it currently exists. It will be a time-of-use metering program that's based on avoided costs at the time they're produced. Like any utility, we have different costs for energy at different times of the day and year. So, we’ll incentivize our members to make the energy when we need it the most and to not force us to take the energy when we need it the least. We will do that through pricing — paying them a higher rate for energy they produce when it costs us the most, and a lower rate for energy they produce when it costs us the least. That’s called a feed-in tariff program, or FIT. …

We are also offering participation in a solar garden. We're building a large-scale solar project, and a piece of it will be set aside for customers who want distributed generation but can’t or don’t want to install it on their property. Possibly their home isn't the best for it, or they can't afford the up-front investment, or they don't want to be involved in some exotic contract. This offers them the lowest-cost alternative to get solar distributed generation in their home. If they reserve 5 kilowatts in the solar garden program, we will view it as if they have 5 kilowatts of solar on their roof, but without any up-front capital, construction on their property or liens on their home. …

Then, if one of our members says, I do want to have the solar array on my roof or in my back yard, we're going to provide them with that option as well. We would pass on our bulk purchasing power to provide the lowest-cost alternative, and come up with a financing model internally. We're still working out the details, but it will likely be an on-bill financing method. So, the installation costs would be absorbed, and we would bill them for it monthly through their power bill.

That's how we're doing the solar hot-water heater program that we’ve had for a number of years now and we’re very proud of. We did a bulk contract, bulk purchasing, and developed a streamlined model for engineering and permitting. Then we finance the cost through their power bill. We offer zero-interest financing on that. I don't know that's necessarily going to be the case with the rooftop  solar program. I just got here. But all these things will be launched this year. …

The costs of solar technology have come down and the technology itself has gotten very, very good. Today, consumers can make the decision whether to invest in renewable energy themselves. Rooftop solar isn't going anywhere. It is here to stay.




Still lives
by Andrew Kiraly | posted October 17, 2014

Yes, this display of mannequins is as eerie in real life as you'd expect.


Equality advocates past and present kick off Nevada Makers
by Heidi Kyser | posted October 16, 2014

Just inside the entrance to a half-lit ballroom at the The Mirage Wednesday evening, activist Ruby Duncan glided by on a mobility scooter. She stopped for a few quick hellos as she made her way to a table marked “Reserved” near the front of the room, where judge Karen Bennett was already settling in. Nearby, former water czar Pat Mulroy mingled with breast surgeon Souzan El-Eid, who sipped a glass of red wine. Waving hello to Rose McKinney-James, civil rights attorney Kathleen England paused to remark on the crowd’s collective civic heft. When she arrived in Las Vegas in 1978, she recalled, Nevadans had recently voted down ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment by a margin of nearly two-to-one.

“A lot of women were graduating from law school and moving to cities like Las Vegas for jobs,” she says. “When we got here, we couldn’t believe the way some men would talk to us at work. We’d have to tell them, ‘You can’t do that; we’ll sue you!’”

 The evening, which featured the premiere of documentary series “Makers: Women in Nevada History,” had its share of bad-old-days reminiscing. But the focus was a celebration of the present and rally for the future.

“Gender equality is the foundation of diversity. It doesn't get more basic than men and women,” said MGM head of diversity Phyllis James (pictured) during the event’s opening remarks. “We want to create a company, and have a community and society where women have an equal opportunity with men to achieve quality education, to advance to equal jobs with equal pay without a glass ceiling, to exercise civil rights without discrimination and in general to pursue life, liberty and happiness without confronting artificial and arbitrary barriers.”

Based on the national “Makers” series, which is in its second season on PBS, the local three-part documentary is meant to help people understand the influence women have had in changing the quality of life for all Nevadans, said Joanne Goodwin, who led the academic side of the collaboration — between UNLV’s Women’s Research Institute and Vegas PBS — that produced the project. Besides the films, there are multimedia elements for public use and consumption, added Vegas PBS general manager Tom Axtell.

“A girl reading Nevada history (the way it's written now) doesn't have a lot of female role models,” Axtell said. “This content will be made available to schools, so a child who wants to research an issue will be able to listen to the firsthand narrative reports of the people who made it happen.”

The Nevada “Makers” took more than two years to produce, but comes out just in time to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state. It airs Tuesdays, October 21-November 4, at 10 p.m. on Vegas PBS (Channel 10), immediately following the 9 p.m. showing of the national series. It will also be available for streaming at the station’s website.


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