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Carson City judge’s ruling aligns with new proposal for existing rooftop solar

CARSON CITY — A proposal to grandfather in existing residential rooftop solar customers under prior, more favorable utility rates for 20 years appears to be a case of very good timing.

The same day the various parties in the debate agreed on a proposal to grant relief to as many as 32,000 residential net metering customers, a Carson City district judge weighed in on the issue.

In his court order dated Monday, District Judge James Wilson set aside the original orders drafted by the Public Utilities Commission that imposed the new rate structure on existing net metering customers, finding that the orders violated constitutional and statutory requirements and were made on unlawful procedure.

Wilson upheld the rate structure for new net metering customers. But his ruling would overturn the rate structure for current rooftop solar customers.

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission on Friday will vote on an agreement to provide relief to existing net metering customers who have been paying higher monthly fixed charges and receiving lower credits for the excess electricity they generate.

The return to the original rate structure would take effect Dec. 1 for net metering customers going forward. The proposal does not address the fact that the solar owners have been under the less favorable rate structure for the past year. The question of rebates may be taken up at a future date.

A favorable vote on the agreement would resolve a thorny political issue for Gov. Brian Sandoval, state lawmakers and state regulators.

More importantly, it could resolve most of the issues raised in Wilson’s ruling. His order can be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

In a statement, the PUC said Wilson’s ruling affirmed the commission’s order on all substantive issues related to the new net metering rates.

“The court confirmed that the commission acted lawfully and that the decision to protect non-NEM customers from unreasonable cost-shifts was based on substantial evidence,” the statement said.

The new rate structure was approved after the PUC determined there was a $16 million a year subsidy provided to net metering customers from non-solar customers.

The original net metering orders from the PUC were challenged by number of groups, including Vote Solar and the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The orders were defended by the PUC and NV Energy.

Wilson found that NV Energy’s original applications for the new rate class for net metering customers did not address existing rooftop solar customers. The PUC proposal did include existing net metering customers, but Wilson said the notice was inadequate.

“The PUCN lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear matters and issue orders on (existing net metering) customers’ rate design because that matter was not submitted by the applicant nor provided for with any degree of specificity in the notices,” Wilson said.

As a result, the PUC consideration of a rate design for current net metering customers violated constitutional due process, he said.

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

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