Push made to prohibit utilities from retroactively penalizing solar customers

CARSON CITY — A coalition of rooftop solar companies on Tuesday urged the U.S. Senate to adopt an amendment to an energy bill that would give states the authority to prohibit monopoly utilities from retroactively penalizing customers who invest in solar.

The amendment to the Senate energy bill is being proposed by U.S. Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada and Angus King of Maine. It would give states the authority to assess the benefits that solar choice provides and to prohibit monopoly utilities from retroactively penalizing customers who invest in solar.

The Alliance for Solar Choice, in a news release, called for the adoption of the amendment.

Evan Dube, director of public policy for Sunrun and a spokesman for the alliance, said in a statement: "We applaud Senators King and Reid for introducing legislation that protects consumer choice and free market competition.

"The King-Reid legislation stands in stark contrast to Arizona Senator (Jeff) Flake's amendment that seeks to weaken states' and consumers' rights," he said. "Senator Flake's legislation is a blatant attempt to impose more regulations that benefit Arizona Public Service and other state-sponsored monopolies to the detriment of homeowners."

"The utility trade lobby, the Edison Electric Institute, wants to eliminate all forms of energy competition, and Senator Flake is doing their bidding," Dube said. "Fortunately, consumers have powerful advocates in Senators King and Reid."

It is not immediately clear what, if any effect the amendment could have in Nevada, where thousands of rooftop solar customers have been hit with new, less favorable rates for their net metering systems as of Jan. 1. The new rates were approved by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, which is in the process of rehearing the question of whether customers who installed systems in 2015 should be grandfathered in under the original, more favorable net metering rates.

Net metering allows solar customers to receive a credit for the excess energy they generate. But the credit is much lower under the new rates approved by Nevada utility regulators and could encompass all rooftop solar customers unless changes are made. The PUC was required to review the net metering issue as a result of a bill passed by the 2015 state Legislature.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801