By Daniel Rothburg
Nevadans widely support the rooftop-solar industry and an effort to reverse a new rate structure for customers, according to a survey commissioned by a SolarCity-backed political action committee. The group, known as Bring Back Solar, has spent nearly $2 million on a ballot measure that would reverse a Public Utilities Commission decision that increased bills for most solar customers.
The survey of 600 Nevadans at the end of June finds that a majority of respondents have a favorable opinion of the rooftop-solar industry, regardless of party affiliation or whether they have solar panels. When presented with information that the PUC imposed "new charges" on solar customers, 73 percent of respondents said they would be supportive of a ballot measure that would undo the new rate structure.
“I thought what was most interesting was the breadth and depth of support for rooftop solar, generally, and for overturning the PUC decision, specifically,” said Andrew Baumann, who conducted the poll from June 21 to June 26 for public-affairs firm Global Strategy Group. The results have a 4-point margin of error.
In late December, the PUC approved the new rates for rooftop-solar customers. The decision tripled a fixed service fee and slashed the value of credits solar customers earn for selling excess electricity back to NV Energy. The utility, which is campaigning to keep the new system, disputes the depiction of the rates as “new charges.” NV Energy's stance is that the PUC decision eliminated a cost shift to non-solar customers who were subsidizing those taking advantage of rooftop solar. The company's PAC has spent more than $1 million to defeat SolarCity’s effort and is presenting its argument in TV ads.
One reason for conducting the poll was to understand how the favorability of the ballot measure held up to such messaging. When respondents were presented with nearly verbatim language from the ads and opposing pro-solar arguments, support for the measure slipped three points, Baumann said, adding, “That’s very, very small movement for something like this."
According to the most recent campaign-finance report, NV Energy is the primary funder of the group opposing the ballot measure, although it received a $100,000 campaign contribution from a labor union for electrical workers. (SolarCity’s poll shows that 67 percent of union households polled have a favorable opinion of the rooftop-solar industry, higher than the 57 percent favorable rating for non-union households.) SolarCity was the only listed funder of Bring Back Solar.
In addition to fighting the ballot measure on the airwaves, NV Energy is contesting it in court on the grounds that it does not meet the requirements of a referendum. The Nevada Supreme Court is expected to rule on the validity of the measure this summer. If it is disqualified, Bring Back Solar has pledged to file a ballot initiative in pursuit of a legislative fix.