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Solar Update: Did Nevada’s Governor Steal the Sunshine?

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Jan 28, 2016 10:34:14 AM

Nevada’s Public Utility Commission decisively put the kibosh on solar by capping net metering, imposing higher fees, and reducing credits for solar-powered homes and businesses.

The Nevada Public Utility Commission (PUC), in conjunction with Governor Brian Sandoval and the State Legislature, approved new rules last month that cap net metering credits and impose monthly fees on solar rooftop systems, dramatically reducing the financial benefit of solar and negatively affecting approximately 18,000 existing solar customers.

Solar companies, users, and advocates are inflamed, filing lawsuits that seek restitution for “anticompetitive actions, deceptive and unfair trade practices resulting in a restraint of trade, monopolization and maintenance of a monopoly over the electric utility in Nevada, price discrimination between different buyers, artificial price inflation, conspiracy to cause the aforementioned results through illegal means, and negligence.”

As a consequence of the legislation, solar industry behemoths SolarCity and SunRun have both announced that they’re pulling out of Nevada. According to Solar Energy Industries, the changes are expected to result in the loss of nearly 6,000 jobs throughout the state.

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The policy change is attributed to the boom in renewables and the resulting impact on NV Energy’s profits. Many place the bulk of the blame on Nevada’s Governor, Brian Sandoval, for enabling an unfair advantage for NV Energy rather than pushing for clean energy solutions and protecting the burgeoning solar industry, which had been one of the State’s highest growth sectors.

It’s a movie that’s playing in states across the nation—policy makers from Hawaii to Arizona to North Carolina are fervidly fighting to safeguard utilities’ profitability, all in the name of protecting non-solar customers from having to subsidize infrastructure costs (that aren’t paid by solar users.)

Some states are finding reasonable middle-ground solutions that preserve the financial benefit of going solar while providing utilities with a pathway to revenue. For example, in California (home to thousands of solar companies and over 54,000 solar workers), regulators recently approved a net metering regime that preserves retail payments for residential rooftop PV but implements limited interconnection and monthly fees.

In Nevada, the PUC’s decision is disturbing not only because capped net metering and prohibitive monthly fees eliminate any financial benefit for going solar, but also because the fees are not grandfathered, meaning that existing solar users who have already made long-term investments will be faced with substantially higher monthly bills (however, in response to a public outcry, the PUC just announced today that it is considering a grandfathering policy that will allow existing solar users to benefit from net metering for the next 20 years.)

The solar debacle in Nevada begs a bevy of burning questions—will the Nevada rules serve as a national precedent, negatively affecting solar policy across the country? Is the Nevada PUC the anti-Robin Hood, taking money away from solar users and putting it into the pockets of the Warren Buffet owned utility? Has the Nevada Legislature created a zero-sum game where the utility wins and homeowners, businesses, and solar employees lose? Time will certainly tell, and I’m on the edge of my seat to see how this divisive battle plays out.

What do you think about the Nevada solar debacle? Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit Green Builder Media at www.greenbuildermedia.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter for regular updates and breaking news.

 

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