Net gain

Nevada may regain its place in the sun

Nevada may be close to ending a war over rooftop solar.

Nevada may be close to ending a war over rooftop solar.


State legislators this week took a step toward restoring the growth of rooftop solar in Nevada.

The Nevada Assembly voted 38-2-2 for Assembly Bill 405, which establishes a net metering adjustment charge to reimburse rooftop-customers for excess solar at 95 percent of the retail rate, to a 6 percent threshold.

Previously, solar users were reimbursed at the full retail rate, so this comes near to restoring them to their previous status.

The measure was approved 12-2 by the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee on May 12 after complicated compromises that kept lobbyists on their toes. The closing days of the legislature are traditionally a period when legislation is slipped through without rigorous scrutiny, and some lobbies have been known to hold measures until this period.

Nevada—once at the forefront of home solar—became the focus of widespread publicity after a Republican majority in the 2015 Nevada Legislature directed the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a reassessment of rooftop solar. At the end of 2015, the Commission voted 3-0 to reduce the payments homeowners receive for generating solar power and sending it back to the grid, the practice known in law as net metering. The PUC also hit homeowners with a fee for access to the grid.

Solar firms and jobs abandoned the Silver State (“Fighting the future,” RN&R, Jan. 21, 2016), and environmental and business publications threw a spotlight on the state’s sudden retreat from solar.

The Public Utilities Commission claimed to be acting because solar customers were being subsidized by regular customers, a claim fostered by Warren Buffet’s monopoly NV Energy. In fact, independent studies—including one commissioned by the PUC itself—said otherwise, but numerous news entities reported the claim as though it were true and never corrected it (“Myths as news,” RN&R, Aug. 25, 2016).

After the Assembly vote this week, advocates of solar expressed their pleasure.

“Over a year ago, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission moved Nevada backward when they kicked the rooftop solar industry out of Nevada,” said Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi. “The legislature has taken another huge step today in erasing that decision and putting rooftop solar back on a long-term path for success in Nevada. When voters took to the polls in November, this issue was top of mind when they filled out their ballots.”

Reno solar contractor NV Sunworks spokesperson Travis Miller said, shortly before the vote, “That bill provides long-term certainty to consumers regarding rates, and also provides consumer protections via contractual disclosures among other things. This provides the potential resolution and correction to the disastrous PUC decision of 2015 that decimated the industry…”

Behavioral guessing

Though Gov. Brian Sandoval was blamed for the PUC action, the Commission is composed of members who serve fixed terms specifically to insulate them from political pressure.

Nevertheless, no one has ever been able to explain why the Commission responded as it did to the legislature’s action in 2015. To this day, it lends uncertainty to the business climate in the state for solar firms considering moving in.

For instance, PV Magazine reported last weekend, “For reasons that are still not entirely clear—even to people at the heart of the fight—the Assembly directed the PUC to cut the net metering rate precipitously and without warning, throwing customers and installers into a state of suspended animation. The rate reductions extended solar’s payback time beyond what many rooftop customers were willing to accept and reduced its economic raison d’etre. That, in turn, affected the installers that had customers lined up for installations. With the diminished economic incentive, many of those projects dried up.”

Whether the state can overcome the doubt some firms deciding between Nevada and other sun-drenched states may feel is anyone’s guess. If the legislative majorities change again, will the state’s solar policies also change again?

The role Buffett will play if the bill now passes the Senate is also a subject of interest. Buffett has been undercutting solar in states all over the nation, preferring a traditional model of large power plants over net metering. Nevada’s former U.S. senator, Harry Reid, publicly warned Buffett last year that he was living in the past by insisting on plants over net metering. “I think [Buffett’s] a good person, but I think he’s wrong on rooftop solar,” Reid said.

It appears all but certain that the measure will be approved by the Senate, which has already demonstrated its support of renewable energy technology. Senate Bills 65 and 204 have both been approved unanimously in the Senate. S.B. 65 provides for utility resource plans, and 204 deals with energy storage systems.