The Battle for Nevada's Solar Future
rooftop solar is essential to building a clean economy
Prior to the recent decision by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), Nevada’s solar industry was growing at a rapid pace. The Solar Foundation estimates that, at the end of 2014, there were almost 6,000 solar jobs in the state.
In 2014 alone, Nevada added 3,500 solar jobs, which made Nevada the top state in the county in solar jobs per capita. Solar jobs grew more than 53 times faster than the state’s average employment during the same period of time. Solar creates jobs that cannot be outsourced – rooftop solar installations by definition must occur locally.
What is Net Energy Metering?
Net metering is a policy that enables families, businesses, schools, and others who generate their own electricity from solar power to get fair credit for the energy they provide to their communities. Net metering has been the law in Nevada since 1997.
Most solar systems produce more electricity than a solar customer can consume each day. The utility company must give solar customers credit for the extra solar energy their systems send to the grid. In 43 states around the country, solar customers receive a dollar of credit for every dollar of energy they send to the grid for their neighbors to use.
How does net metering affect non-solar customers?
Net metering compensates solar customers for the electricity that they generate - creating savings on electricity bills. Any extra electricity goes onto the electric grid, and the utility then sells it to the customer’s neighbors to power their homes. As a result, when one customer in a neighborhood goes solar, the entire neighborhood ends up using solar electricity. Study after study, including a report commissioned by the PUCN, show that solar customers provide a positive economic benefit to the grid.
Regardless of whether an individual family or business has gone solar, all customers benefit from rooftop solar because solar customers generate clean energy in their community. This is because rooftop solar reduces the need for costly new power plants and power lines and sends clean energy to the grid when and where demand for energy is highest.
What did the legislature vote on in SB 374?
In May of 2015, the legislature passed SB 374, which tasked the PUCN with determining a new rate structure after Nevada hit a legislatively-imposed cap on solar net metering. SB 374 removed all protections solar customers previously enjoyed against discriminatory fees and charges and authorized the creation of a separate customer class who could be imposed demand charges and solar-only fixed charges. The bill gave the PUCN the ability to impose these charges on all existing solar customers.
The solar industry tried to introduce legislation to protect net metering, but was shut down at every turn by NV Energy and its supporters. Solar companies were ultimately forced to support this bad legislation because there was no other option to allow the industry to continue.
What did the Public Utilities Commission decide and why is it bad for Nevadans?
Rather than competing with rooftop solar in the free market, utility special interests and opponents of renewable energy have pour millions into fighting rooftop solar. In December, they got a big win. The PUCN essentially eliminated the state’s net metering policy by eliminating the economic savings for current and future solar customers. The Commission increased fixed charges on future solar customers in order to ensure that NV Energy can maintain its guaranteed profits. This led to a reduction of customer savings by over 50%. Additionally, the PUCN reduced by 75% the credit solar customers get for the extra energy they send to the grid.
Even more problematic, the PUCN took the unprecedented step of not “grandfathering” existing customers, meaning it applied these new rules to existing solar customers. As a result, existing solar customers – who took advantage of state incentives to install solar – now face major changes to their rates. For most customers, these changes greatly reduce expected savings and undermine their investments. In some cases, solar customers may end up paying more than had they not gone solar at all.