As the sun beat down on a small array of solar panels in front of City Hall today, Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced Las Vegas would be the first city of its size to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
The city will expand its partnership with NV Energy to encompass a mix of energy-efficiency programs, a large-scale solar project and purchasing agreement to reach its goal.
The city will make the switch in January 2017, pending approval by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
“Every city light, city park, community center, fire station and service yard will be 100 percent covered by renewable energy,” Goodman said.
NV Energy CEO Paul Caudill joined Goodman and other local officials in making the announcement. Caudill, who made a similar deal in August with data company Switch, said solar will be the predominant form of renewable energy in the company’s portfolio once the deal takes effect.
The city will be entitled to a portion of energy from a 100 megawatt solar project being built by SunPower near Boulder City in the Eldorado Valley. NV Energy will buy the power from the solar company and transmit it to the city.
The cost of solar for NV Energy will be about $48 a megawatt hour — a price drop of more than 50 percent over the past five years in Nevada for large-scale solar projects.
“It’s cheaper than what we could build a new natural gas plant for,” Caudill said.
The city will pay a premium to go 100 percent renewable.
The money it pays for the renewable energy will offset what it would be using for carbon-based electricity.
Energy-efficiency programs and other conservation measures have saved the city more than $20 million in the last five years. The city says new efforts will save the city an additional $250,000 a year and will offset the cost for the new solar energy and the other existing renewables.
City officials and business leaders heralded the news as a way to cut emissions and attract businesses. It is a major branding opportunity, said Jonas Peterson, CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.
“Companies don’t just choose tax climates, they choose cultures,” he said.
The news comes in a year in which Caudill and NV Energy have engaged with multiple businesses about the cost of going green.
In an attempt to go 100 percent renewable, Switch unsuccessfully applied with the PUC in 2014 to exit its power contract with NV Energy. Both companies hashed out a deal this summer that is the framework for what the city is now trying to get.
Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts followed suit. They are looking to end current contracts with NV Energy — an effort triggered by low natural gas prices and a desire to switch to more renewables.
The PUC will resolve that matter by the end of the year.
NV Energy is also involved in a battle in which regulators will determine the cost of rooftop solar in Nevada by Jan. 1.
Environmental advocates and rooftop solar companies have rebuked NV Energy as a monopoly this year, as lawmakers and regulators have weighed how the utility should pay customers participating in net metering, which pays rooftop solar customers for providing energy to the grid.
“We are not afraid of competition,” Caudill said. “What we are invested in is working with customers like the city of Las Vegas and Switch to compete. This is all making us better.”