Nevada’s rep continues to take a beating
If Nevada officials hoped the national impact of torpedoing the state’s net metering policies would die down, it appears not to be happening. Business and environmental media are folding the Nevada dispute into other stories, and new developments continue to unfold. Some of that coverage has been devastating to economic development in Nevada as other Western states carve out their own renewable niches.
Last year, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved new solar net metering rates that cuts the rate paid to rooftop solar customers for the power they hand back to the grid. The PUC also hiked the monthly charge for customers with rooftop. The changes undercut existing solar users who expected rates to help pay for their rooftop installations and also discourages others from adding rooftop to their homes.
This week, an article in the National Law Review read, “Despite overwhelming support among Nevada voters for the net metering program (about 75 percent, across all parties), Nevada rolled back its net metering program in a dramatic fashion. The fallout was immediate. Elon Musk’s SolarCity fired 550 workers, while two other large solar installers (Vivant and Sunrun) have announced plans to close their Nevada operations. Several lawsuits are pending.”
At OilPrice.com, analyst Nick Cunningham wrote, “Now that solar power is reaching prime time, the fossil fuel industry is doing all that it can to stop its growth. … Customers switching to solar end up hitting the utility’s bottom line twice by no longer buying as much electricity and upended the utility’s case for costly new power plants and transmission lines. That is why utilities have become much more aggressive in beating back solar. One of the most high-profile cases is in Nevada, where a NV Energy, subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, convinced the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to abruptly and harshly alter the rules of the game for solar power in the state. … By the stroke of a pen, Nevada just became a much more difficult place to do business for solar companies. SolarCity’s share price has plummeted by more than 60 percent since the December ruling.”
After the signing of the Paris climate change agreement, CNN’s John Sutter wrote, “World leaders finally get it. That’s why nearly 200 of them signed the Paris Agreement at the UN COP21 climate conference in December. It commits all of us to rapidly move away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner sources of energy like solar and wind. But apparently that collective will to wage a war on climate change hasn’t trickled down to Nevada. Instead, the local utility and officials are injecting uncertainty and doubt into the solar market at exactly the moment when the opposite is needed.”
Last week, Warren Buffett—who owns the monopoly power utility NV Energy, which requested the Public Utilities Commission action that gutting net metering in the state—told CNBC that Tesla CEO Elon Musk had contacted him directly.
“Well, he would like the million people to subsidize the 17,000 [solar customers] just like the rest of Nevada is subsidizing his battery plant,” he said.
However, there is no evidence that, under the net metering rules that were voided by the PUC, solar customers were being subsidized by other customers. The only non-industry study—done by the staff of the PUC—found otherwise.
An online petition is headed, “Tell Warren Buffett: Stop Your War On Rooftop Solar.” And Credo, a telecommunications company, is sending messages to Buffett for its subscribers who request it, calling on him to stop interfering with rooftop.
PriceofOil.org used an interesting bit of punctuation: “The battle over solar has been intense in Nevada, where NV Energy, subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, managed to ’convince’ the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to radically alter the rules for solar, which could decimate the solar industry in the state. The Commission imposed some of the most extreme solar rate hikes in the U.S. on both new and existing solar customers. Some residents may see their electricity bills increase by a whopping by [sic] 300 percent above what they would have been if they had not installed solar. SolarCity, America’s largest solar provider, has since announced it is pulling out of Nevada, as has another solar company, Sunrun which is now suing the state. SolarCity’s share price has taken a hammering since the new rules were announced in December.”
The quotes around convince seem to be a way of hinting at the notion—pushed more explicitly by some of the solar companies who left the state—that there was something improper about the PUC’s action that involved Gov. Brian Sandoval, two of whose political advisors are also utility lobbyists.
Greenpeace made the claim still more explicit, charging the governor with being corrupt. An article by Cassady Sharp posted on the Greenpeace website carried the headline, “What a Bought Politician in Nevada Means for the 2016 Presidential Race.”
The article does not support the headline charge, but the word “bought” does appear twice more on the page. The article basically recycles the claim of the solar companies that Sandoval is compromised by his association with the two lobbyists.
Greenpeace lets the state legislators—who directed the PUC to act—off the hook entirely. It also does not report that the regulators serve fixed terms to insulate them from political pressure. It further failed to report that Sandoval has publicly disagreed with the PUC, at least on grandfathering in existing solar users: “While I have respected the commission and its deliberations by not influencing its process, the PUC did not reach the outcome I had hoped for. I remained optimistic that the commission would find a solution that considered the economic consequences to existing rooftop solar owners.”
In related news:
• The Oregon Legislature has voted to ban coal generated power by 2035 and to require its largest utilities to use renewable for at least half of their power generation by 2040. Pat Remick of the National Resources Defense Council said, “Combined with Oregon’s existing hydroelectric base, that means the state will be on track for an electricity system that’s 70 to 90 percent carbon-free by that date.”
• Political action committees—No Solar Tax PAC (pro-rooftop solar) and Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness (anti-rooftop solar) are operating for and against ballot measures. One, a referendum, is designed to restore Nevada’s previous net metering rules. A second ballot petition seeks to break up the NV Energy monopoly. That one in an initiative petition.
• Near Tonopah, a solar facility was made operational. Crescent Dunes SolarReserve uses thermal energy, stored in the form of molten salt, capturing heat from a steerable mirror array that can be used for power at night. It is generating 100 megawatts, according to the company, which hopes the method will become widely used.