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Attorney argues referendum petition on net metering should be rejected

CARSON CITY — An attorney for a new political action committee is arguing in a court filing that a referendum petition seeking to restore Nevada’s net metering program to the more favorable rates that existed prior to Jan. 1 should be rejected.

The newly formed Political Action Committee called Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness filed the challenge to the petition by the group Bring Back Solar Alliance. The officers of the PAC challenging the referendum have not yet been identified.

The legal challenge was anticipated by the Bring Back Solar Alliance and was filed on the last day to do so.

Carson City attorney James Cavilia, who filed the challenge in Carson City District Court on Monday, said the petition should be rejected.

His complaint raises several arguments supporting a court ruling rejecting the referendum. The complaint argues that — because the referendum proposes to delete only certain sections of the bill passed by the 2015 Legislature requiring a review of net metering — it does not qualify as a referendum. He cites Section 1, Article 19 of the state constitution giving voters the power to approve or disapprove legislation through the use of the referendum. 

The Bring Back Solar group needs to file an initiative petition seeking to change state law instead, which would first go to the 2017 Legislature and then potentially a vote of the people in 2018, Cavilia said.

He has also challenged the “description of effect,” a summary telling potential signers of what the referendum petition would accomplish. Some of the language will be confusing to potential signers and the wording is also incorrect where it says it will preserve net metering as it was previously implemented, Cavilia said.

A hearing has not yet been set to consider the challenge but it must occur with in 15 days. Any decision at the district court level could then be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“When the Bring Back Solar Alliance filed its proposed referendum, we expected a legal challenge,” said Bob Greenlee, spokesman for the group. “Our ballot measure to bring back rooftop solar to Nevada is broadly popular, so opponents are simply trying to use legal technicalities as a backdoor tactic to deny the people the opportunity to express their will at the ballot booth.”

The referendum proposes to repeal certain language in a bill passed by the 2015 Legislature requiring the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to set a new rate class for net metering customers. The effect would be to return Nevada’s rooftop solar program to pre-2016 rates. 

If the petition survives the legal challenge, supporters will have to gather 55,234 valid signatures from registered Nevada voters, including at least 13,809 signatures from each of state’s four congressional districts, by June 21 to get the measure to the November general election ballot.

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

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