Nevadans Get Coal for Christmas

Despite overwhelming public support for rooftop solar, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN) today voted (3–0) to weaken one of the state’s most successful solar programs in a move that will mean significant new costs for residents and small businesses that go solar.

red hot coals

“The recent adoption of the Paris Agreement is a signal that the era of fossil fuels is coming to an end. We’re disappointed that the PUCN isn’t ready to build on that momentum with their unsupportive decision today. We will continue to support youth and the broader community to fight for policies that make solar affordable and accessible for all Nevadans,” said Vernard Williams, Nevada Associate Program Director, Alliance for Climate Education (ACE).

“Today’s decision puts Nevada embarrassingly out of step with the national and international agenda recently set in Paris to save our climate,” added Rt. Rev. Dan T. Edwards, Bishop of the Episcopal Churches of Nevada.

In August, Nevada celebrated a temporary victory when the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN) voted 3–0 to extend net metering through the end of 2015 after the 235 MW cap was hit. In his August order, Commissioner David Noble suggested the PUCN needed more time to vet new price structures before it takes action. Four months later, the PUCN has made their final decision, and it’s sending shock waves through the solar community.

A state law passed earlier this year, Senate Bill 374, tasked the PUCN with deciding whether or not to make changes to an important consumer solar policy, called net metering, that gives solar customers full credit on their energy bills for valuable electricity they deliver to the utility grid. NV Energy proposed a crippling three-tier rate system for solar customers including a monthly basic service charge, a demand charge, and an energy charge. In the final decision, the PUCN decided not to approve the demand charge “at this time.” Unfortunately, the order does contain a number of nasty changes for both existing and future solar customers:

  • Creation of discriminatory rate class for residential and small customer solar customers
  • Excess hourly energy produced through NEM systems will be compensated at the wholesale market rate, an unfair level of compensation that is significantly lower than the previous retail rate
  • Increase to the fixed charge and corresponding decrease to the volumetric commodity charge
  • Optional TOU rate for NEM customers

Distribution costs are being included in the approved basic service charge, and the PUCN is signaling that they are open to also including generation capacity costs and transmission costs in the basic service charge through future general rate cases.

Other elements of NV Energy’s proposal were deferred to next rate case or outright denied:

  • No separate tariff for new build solar
  • Generation meter installation requirement and cost allocation denied
  • No interconnection charge for NEM ratepayers
  • No grandfathering of existing solar customers
  • Demand charge not adopted

SB 374 set a December 31 deadline for the PUCN to approve the new solar rates, which will take effect January 1, 2016. NV Energy must file the new rates with the PUCN for final review within seven days of the effective date of the order. The final order proposes an annual incremental implementation of the new rates with a five step phasing which will be fully implemented on January 1, 2020.

All in all, this decision is completely out of step with a recent study commissioned by the PUCN that actually confirmed that the utility grid benefits from net metered clean energy systems installed from 2014 to 2016 will outweigh costs by $174 million. Nevada solar customers deserve better for their valuable investment in local solar power, an investment that keeps rates low for all NV Energy customers.

And of course solar delivers tremendous benefits beyond those grid savings that should be recognized. It puts families, churches and local businesses in control of their energy bills and sources like never before. By reducing the use of water-intensive traditional power sources, rooftop solar also helps conserve Nevada’s limited water resource and protect its natural heritage. Net metering has also helped make Nevada a national leader in the new energy economy with more jobs per capita than any other state. Those jobs, and Nevada’s clean energy future, are now in jeopardy.

Although this vote was a major blow to Nevada solar customers, this fight is far from over. Time will tell if the state’s leaders continue to uphold the interests of their powerful utility or begin to act on behalf of the people of Nevada who overwhelmingly support energy options and solar progress.

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