Nevadans who buy energy-efficient homes would get big tax breaks under a bill lawmakers debated Thursday – but those who produce their own power would see their energy credits limited.
Senate Commerce and Labor Chairman Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, asked his committee to pass SB437, which would have a variety of effects on energy regulation. The overall thrust is to encourage energy conservation in a fast-growing state that must import energy, he said.
"We send over $3 billion of Nevada's hard-earned money out of state to buy energy," said Townsend. "It's getting to the point where Las Vegas may in fact drive the entire western market because of the intensity with which we grow."
The bill would offer property tax breaks of up to 50 percent for home buyers who purchase houses that meet national "green building" standards. Certain facilities that produce renewable energy also would get those tax cuts, which last for 10 years.
Pete Coates of Gardnerville, construction manager for Kit Carson Development, said those tax breaks, which could add up to $30,000 over a 10-year period, would make it easier to compete with non-energy efficient home builders.
Coates, whose company specializes in building energy efficient homes, also said building such homes can cost 25 percent more than building a standard homes.
Home sellers would be required to do an energy audit on a building before they sell it. The bill also mandates that real estate brokers and salespeople be trained in the bill's proposed standards for energy efficiency.
The proposal also instructs state regulators to change the way they regulate natural gas. If SB437 becomes law, gas rates would be set at a level allowing companies to pay their fixed costs without taking into account the amount of gas they actually sell.
The current pricing system should change because it gives natural gas companies an incentive to encourage high consumption, since they make most of their money from delivery charges, said Townsend. In the long run, he said the new "de-coupled" gas pricing could lower prices for consumers and reduce risk for the companies.
The bill also allows for utilities to adjust electric rates quarterly rather than annually. State Consumer Advocate Eric Witkoski said that would allow power companies to save money on interest payments, and pass that savings on to consumers.
Some "customer generators" who actually produce power with solar panels or other means expressed dismay about sections of the bill that would limit the credits they get from putting energy back on the grid. Those credit would expire each September.
"The only person I can see benefiting from this would be the power companies," said Marion Barritt, who lives in Nevada's first solar net-metered home, in Gardnerville.
The committee also considered SB427, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, which would expand a state program offering benefits to solar-power users, and establish similar programs for wind and water power.
Finally, the committee heard testimony on SB27, a bill that would allow the Clark County School District, which produces electricity in some of its facilities, to be exempted from certain regulations that govern utilities.