...Nevada PUC votes for slower phase-in of higher rates, pleasing no one | Solar Builder
 

Nevada PUC votes for slower phase-in of higher rates, pleasing no one

Nevada solar rates

The rate issues in Nevada didn’t improve for the solar industry as the Public Utilities Commission voted to keep the new higher rates for solar customers, only deciding to extend the phase-in over a longer period of time.

The Background: The PUC approved new, higher rates in December for solar customers after the residential industry boomed following a government-supported push for installations. A swing back in the other direction, backed by the utilities, was bound to happen once the cap was reached and the rate was reevaluated, but the decision to raise rates raised even more eyebrows because it would apply to everyone. Early adopters would not have their previous rate honored or grandfathered in, thus devaluing the decision they were originally encouraged to make.

Solar companies responded the decision by laying off employees in droves, and some exited the state entirely because the raised rates devalued a PV investment to the point where it makes little to no sense to install.

The Update: After an outcry, the PUC voted on the decision again, this time unanimously (3-0) deciding to phase in the new rates over 12 years instead of four. The slower phase-in, they say, will allow those with solar to “maximize the value of their system.”

The reasoning for the rate increases in the first place, according to the regulators, is the raised rates better reflect the declining cost of solar power, which they find is being subsidized by traditional energy customers.

The evidence for this reasoning? Why, an in-depth study by NV Energy, the powerful utility in the area, that has obviously caused a wave of eye rolls for all involved.

The Reaction:

From NBC News 4:

Naomi Duerr took off her Reno City Council member hat and took on the role of a rooftop solar customer testifying before the panel.

Afterwards she said, “This is disappointing.” She said the Commission’s data is only from NV Energy, a company that stands to gain by the new solar rate change. She said, “They have disregarded other arguments that solar is subsidizing all users.”

When fully implemented, Duerr said she will see a 300 percent increase in her electricity bill had she not had solar in the first place.

The solar industry is less than pleased with the process and the outcome:

“Noble’s contortionist twisting of the law belongs in a Vegas Cirque du Soleil show, not the halls of government,” said Brian Miller, an executive with solar panel installer Sunrun and a vocal critic of Nevada’s governor, who appoints commissioners but said he won’t meddle in their regulatory work. “Brian Sandoval’s legacy will be letting his hand-picked commissioners eliminate a booming industry while he complicitly stays silent.”

SolarCity: “We are also disappointed that the PUC denied the motion for reconsideration of The Alliance for Solar Choice, the Bureau of Consumer Protection and other parties. The people of Nevada overwhelmingly disagreed with this decision and asked the Public Utilities Commission to reconsider it. In light of the damage the PUC decision has caused to Nevada’s economy, it’s unfortunate that the Commissioners will not let their appeal be heard.”

Even potential presidents have commented: “Utilities should not be allowed to penalize consumers with retroactive rule changes that cause financial hardship and slow the transition to a clean energy economy,” Hilary Clinton said in a statement Thursday.

 

Gov. Brian Sandoval released his own statement on the decision, in which he expressed concern:

“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. Today’s decision does not go far enough to protect their interests.

Renewable energy development in Nevada is a priority for me and an important and evolving issue. I remain committed to providing a path for Nevada to continue to explore the potential of our vast renewable energy portfolio while ensuring Nevada has an equitable system that balances energy policy with just and reasonable utility rates. There is no greater friend to the solar industry than my Administration. In 2011, I signed legislation enacting policies to stand up the rooftop solar market. In 2013, I approved another measure that doubled the net metering cap. In 2015, I signed into law a bill that again changed the net metering cap and transferred oversight of this complex issue to the PUC. The 2015 legislation received public support from the rooftop solar industry and many other interested parties. When I signed these bills, it was my belief that the utility rates should remain constant for homeowners who installed rooftop solar systems on their homes.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice was unmoved by Sandoval’s statement. TASC listed these as the reasons:

Governor Sandoval has for months claimed that he has no responsibility for the actions of his own appointees. Yet on January 22nd, he took credit for five new large scale projects that line NV Energy’s pockets, and that were approved by the same Commissioners. The most recent project was approved nearly simultaneously with the decision to eliminate residential solar in Nevada.

The fact is that Sandoval has weighed in the rooftop solar debate, but only to repeat NV Energy’s talking points. Here are a few examples of the numerous statements he’s made to this effect:

• On December 23rd, immediately after the Commission’s decision to eliminate the solar industry, Governor Sandoval parroted NV Energy’s talking points, saying “traditional energy consumers are subsidizing rooftop solar consumers” despite the fact that his own Commission conducted a study finding just the opposite.

• In a television interview on January 7th, Governor Sandoval said that non-solar Nevada customers were “essentially subsidizing” the 17,000 solar customers in Nevada. But when challenged on how much the subsidy was, Sandoval admitted that he hadn’t done the math.

• On April 15th, during the legislative session, Governor Sandoval asked “Should those without rooftop solar pay a higher rate on their electric bill for the insertion of rooftop solar across the state?” While admitting that was only one side’s perspective, he made no attempt to offer a balanced opinion.

 

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