CARSON CITY — A state lawmaker said Friday that Nevada utility regulators went too far by eliminating a disputed subsidy for net metering customers because the rooftop solar industry has been decimated by the decision.
Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said a bill passed by lawmakers in 2015 asked the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to review and eliminate any "unreasonable" cost shift to nonsolar customers from rooftop solar system owners.
"What we did not intend was to decimate the industry," Ford said.
The intent of the Legislature was to allow the industry to thrive, he said.
"What I am seeing here is the exact opposite of that," Ford said. "Almost the entire eradication of the industry."
Ford and other lawmakers expressed concern that the commission rejected a request to grandfather existing rooftop solar customers in under the previous, more generous rates.
Ford made his comments at a meeting of the Legislative Commission, which heard testimony on the process that resulted in the new, less favorable rooftop solar rates from commission Chairman Paul Thomsen.
The committee did not decide how to proceed on the issue, but net metering could come up in the 2017 legislative session. There has also been a referendum petition filed that would ask voters in November to restore the net metering program.
Major solar companies say they have left the state because of the new net metering rates. Other, Nevada-based firms say they have had to cut back because demand for rooftop solar has dried up.
Kevin Romney, representing the rooftop solar firm Radiant Solar Solutions in Henderson, concurred with Ford that the industry has been decimated by the new rates. The rates have made private investment in rooftop solar flee the state, he said.
Romney disputed the suggestion that there is any subsidy. Rooftop solar brings a lot of benefits to the grid, he said.
The Public Utilities Commission a week ago approved the new rates, which will eliminate what Thomsen said is a $16 million a year subsidy to rooftop solar customers over the next 12 years. The subsidy will be erased by 2028 in four increases coming every three years.
The new rates include a higher monthly fixed service charge and a lower credit for the excess electricity generated by rooftop systems.
Thomsen said the subsidy equated to $3 a month to the 97 percent of customers of NV Energy who do not have rooftop solar systems.
He also said that there has been a huge amount of investment into alternative energy in Nevada, including rooftop and large solar projects, over the past several years.
The governor's energy office recently announced that it has provided more than $467 million in incentives, grants and loans to help develop the solar industry in Nevada. Since 2009, the office's Renewable Energy Tax Abatement Program has attracted $4.3 billion in capital improvements, payroll, and taxes paid, representing a nearly 10-to-1 return on Nevada's investment.
There are about 19,500 interconnected net metering customers in Nevada with about 12,000 more in the pipeline.
NV Energy has about 1.3 million customers.