In the final days of 2015, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada voted to add significant new costs for solar customers, a rate and rule change that impacted both future customers as well as the thousands of Nevadans who had already invested their own dollars in local solar power. We were hoping that the PUCN would reconsider the unprecedented changes for existing customers by grandfathering them into the previous rules—but on February 12, the PUCN affirmed its earlier position with another unanimous vote to phase those customers into the new rate changes over 12 years. The vote added insult to injury for existing solar customers and did nothing to preserve jobs and continued opportunities for more consumers to go solar and save.
Specific customer bill impacts vary based on annual consumption and percent of energy exported, but some Nevada Power customers will see bill increases up to 154% once the rates are fully implemented. The PUCN raised the flat monthly fee on solar customers threefold by 2028, from $12.75 to $38.51. They also reduced the net metering credit by 70 percent. This is especially harmful to customers who made significant investments in solar under the expectation that it would generate savings into the foreseeable future.
Nevada’s solar debacle has drawn the attention of national press (check out this great Rolling Stone article if you haven’t already). It’s brought engagement from celebrities, members of Congress, and more than one Presidential candidate. It’s also prompted Nevada’s own Governor Brian Sandoval to criticize the decision and call on the Legislative Committee on Energy and the state’s New Energy Task Force to find a solution. We couldn’t agree more.
How did the PUCN get solar rate design so wrong?
If there is a lesson to be learned from Nevada’s mess, it’s that regulatory inquiries into net metering should not be rushed and should provide ample opportunity for stakeholder engagement. Much of Nevada’s problem can be traced back to an aggressive timeline set by compromise bill Senate Bill 374, which passed in June 2015 and required the PUCN to make a ruling on net metering by December 31—meaning the dockets on this very complex and critical issue moved at breakneck speed. Hearings went on well into the night and the process was exhausting for everyone involved. Regulatory processes that determine the future for an entire industry should not be rushed. At numerous junctures, the Commissioners admitted that all the needed information was not available. A fair and just process would allow proper time to make sure all of the needed information was part of the decision making process. The Commissioners were flying blind in regard to several important data points: the economic impact of the PUCN decision, number of solar jobs at stake, and benefits of solar to non-net metering ratepayers to name a few.
Where do we go from here?
For those of us who have been actively involved in Nevada over the past six months, we know this is just the beginning. Through their catastrophic decision, the PUCN has kicked the hornet’s nest so to speak and the result is an outraged and mobilized public. Hard-working Nevadans are calling for good solar policy like never before, working to convince state leaders to represent the public interest instead of the interests of a monopoly utility and their cronies. The right to self-determination is a value that cuts across all political, economic, and social lines. Nevadans want energy choice and state leaders to have their back—not the utility’s. The story is far from over in Nevada. The best, as they say, is yet to come.