CARSON CITY — Nevada's popular rooftop-solar program will proceed under existing rates and rules for the short term even though a cap on net metering was hit last week, the state Public Utilities Commission decided Wednesday.
The commission approved an interim order prepared by Commissioner David Noble who said the adoption of any alternative proposal to the existing program was premature.
The decision means that homeowners can continue to apply for net metering, where residents who install rooftop-solar systems receive a credit for excess electricity their systems generate, with some certainty as to the economic benefits of such a decision.
As of the end of last week, there were 9,884 net metering customers for Nevada Power Co. in Southern Nevada and 1,679 customer for Sierra Pacific in Northern Nevada that were interconnected. This represents approximately 1.1 percent of Nevada Power customers and 0.5 percent of all Sierra Pacific customers.
The decision to continue net metering under the program that was capped a week ago at 235 megawatts may provide only temporary certainty for the rooftop-solar industry, however. The PUC is mandated to set a permanent new tariff for net metering customers by Dec. 31.
What that new tariff will look like has yet to be decided.
In a statement, the Alliance for Solar Choice said that the decision, "allows Nevadans to go back to work."
"The hard work is now before the commissioners to issue long-term rules" said Bryan Miller, co-chairman of the group. "Nevadans will remain vocal to ensure that these rules allow Nevada's solar industry to continue creating jobs and driving economic growth."
Noble's order requires NV Energy, doing business in Southern Nevada as Nevada Power, to file by Friday the necessary tariffs to allow interim net metering ratepayers to participate under the rules of the existing program.
Involved parties will be able to present their proposals when the commission conducts a hearing to adopt a permanent new tariff Nov. 18, he said.
In a statement, NV Energy said: "While the interim rate approved today was not what the company proposed, we supported Senate Bill 374 along with the rooftop-solar industry, which determined that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada is the appropriate body to define future net metering rules and rates.
"As we have said from the beginning, we support cost competitive renewable energy in all forms, and will continue to work with stakeholders through this interim period to ensure Nevada retains its leadership position in the development of renewable energy," the statement concluded.
Some rooftop-solar companies that formed The Alliance for Solar Choice expressed concern at a Friday hearing that adopting a new tariff proposed by NV Energy for net metering customers would kill the industry in Nevada along with its 6,000 jobs. The company wanted its new proposed tariff to be implemented by Sept. 15.
The issue became more pressing last week when NV Energy said the cap on net set by the 2015 Legislature was reached, requiring a new rate as directed by lawmakers.
Members of the PUC met for 10 hours on the issue Friday, gathering information to decide on how best to adopt an interim rate.
Lawmakers who passed the measure requiring the PUC to set a new rate for rooftop-solar customers were told just a few months ago that the cap would not be reached until sometime in 2016, giving regulators plenty of time to craft a new rate by a Dec. 31 deadline.
But that estimate proved to be incorrect as Nevadans rushed to file applications to get in under the cap.