Rooftop solar fight not losing energy
Any time Desert Companion takes on a developing story for our monthly
print edition, we expect to do online updates, sharing information that’s come to light since putting the issue to bed. Typically, they’re a few, sporadic paragraphs. The moving target of rooftop solar/net metering in Nevada, however, has seen so much action since we put that story to bed a couple weeks ago, that it’s getting increasingly difficult to disagree with those who believe the public utility and the rooftop-solar business are engaged in an epic, existential battle.
For those just tuning in, here’s a summary:
- Summer 2015: The Nevada Legislature passes, and Governor Brian Sandoval signs, Senate Bill 374 instructing the PUC to “revis(e) provisions relating to net-metering systems,” which allow rooftop-solar customers to be reimbursed for the excess energy they create and put back onto the grid. The bill also requires “the electric utility” (NV Energy) to propose net metering tariffs for its customers to the PUC.
- December 2015: Following extensive legal back-and-forth between NV Energy, the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Alliance for Solar Choice (a consortium of third-party rooftop-solar providers) and various other interested parties, the PUC filed an order establishing a new rate class and structure for net metering customers.
- Based a cost-of-service study performed by NV Energy and vetted by PUC staff, the new rates were set as follows: monthly service charge, $17.90 for net-metering customers ($12.75 for non-net metering customers); consumption charge of 11.1 cents per kilowatt hour (11.3 cents); and 9.2 cents excess energy credit (N/A). Over five years, net metering customers’ service charge rises to $29.51 and the excess energy credit drops to 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour — rates that rooftop-solar customers argue will sap any remaining value from their systems.
- December 2015-January 2016: Nevadans with rooftop solar arrays, along with their providers and supporters — ranging from companies like Solar City to organizations like the National Association of Home Builders — stage public protests, write letters to editors and line up by the hundreds to speak at public meetings. They accuse NV Energy and the PUC of acting in the interest of the utility and not the 17,000 or so customers who have gotten rooftop solar arrays based on the belief that the system previously in place would continue. And they wonder why the PUC doesn’t “grandfather” them into the new system under their pre-existing arrangement.
- December 2015-January 2016: The PUC responds to the public outcry by arguing that the utility’s grid maintenance and overhead costs are being unreasonably shifted from net-metering customers, who avoid them by producing their own “free” electricity, to non-net-metering customers. It notes that net-metering customers only represent 2 percent of all customers, that net-metering contracts didn’t guarantee a continuation of pre-existing rates and that there’s no precedent for having separate billing systems for the same class of ratepayers (i.e., net metering customers pre- and post-rate change).
- January 15: Las Vegans John Bamforth and Stanley Schone file a class-action lawsuit against NV Energy alleging anticompetitive actions, maintenance of a monopoly, artificial price inflation and other misdeeds.
That’s about where our story picked up. Since then, it’s gotten even more interesting …
- January 25: In a press release, NV Energy proposes allowing “existing net-metering customers to remain on old rules over a transition period as long as 20 years.” In a filing with the PUC that same day, however, the company argues that “the same rates and tariffs should be applied to all net energy metering customers … regardless of the vintage of the NEM system”
- January 29: Jennifer and Henry DeCuir file a class-action lawsuit against Solar City, claiming the company hid and/or lied about the possibility that the PUC could raise rates and the guarantee that they would save money on their electricity bills.
- February 3:
- U.S. Senator Harry Reid co-sponsors an amendment to an energy-modernization policy that would, essentially, prevent utilities from raising rates of “on-site generating customers” above those agreed to when service contracts are signed without a really good reason (and without applying the rate increases across the board). The intent of the amendment is to protect rooftop-solar customers against retroactive rate increases such as the one ordered by the PUC.
- Nonprofit Nevadans for Affordable Clean Energy Choices launches the Energy Choice Initiative, a drive to amend the state constitution in a way that would break up NV Energy’s state electricity monopoly.
- The newly formed Bring Back Solar Alliance releases the results of a statewide opinion survey suggesting not only that Nevadans are well aware of what’s going on with net metering in their state, but that they also don’t like it and want something done about it. Seventy percent said they knew about the PUC’s recent decision, 89 percent said they disagreed with it and 78 percent favored a special session to reverse it.
- Sunrun executive Bryan Miller tells public television’s Jon Ralston that he believes the PUC had actually broken the law by discouraging rooftop solar development.
- February 8: The PUC responds to Miller’s accusations (via Ralston) by saying that the law in question encourages renewable energy development of all sorts — including utility-scale — and doesn’t specifically protect individual investments.