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Hope still possible for unhappy rooftop solar customers

CARSON CITY — There could be hope yet for Nevada rooftop solar customers who have argued they should not be included in a new, less favorable net metering rate that took effect Jan. 1.

But a grandfathering proposal supported Wednesday by a state advisory committee would have to make it through the 2017 session of the Nevada Legislature before homeowners could see relief.

The Technical Advisory Committee on Distributed Generation and Storage supported a measure Wednesday that would ask the Legislature in 2017 to grandfather in as many as 31,000 rooftop solar customers who are now in a less favorable rate class for 25 years.

The proposal will now be considered by the New Energy Industry Task Force, a panel re-established by Gov. Brian Sandoval to look at a variety of energy issues including rooftop solar.

Chandler Sherman, spokeswoman for Bring Back Solar, said in a statement: “We are thankful for the leadership of the Governor’s Technical Advisory Committee on Distributed Generation and Storage for their vote to grandfather all current rooftop solar customers on the solar rules they signed up for.

She urged the New Energy Industry Task Force to accept the committee’s recommendation next week, and that Sandoval and the Legislature will make the recommendation a reality.

The grandfathering issue stems from a decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission earlier this year to establish a separate class for rooftop solar customers starting Jan. 1. Regulators voted to include all rooftop solar customers in the new rate, which is less generous than the rules in place when they purchased their systems.

 

The language of the motion approved by the advisory committee would allow customers of NV Energy who had an approved, time stamped application for a rooftop system prior to Dec. 31 to receive the more generous credit per kilowatt hour of excess generation. A higher monthly fixed charge for net metering customers now in effect would also be restored to a lower level.

The subsidy received by net metering customers from non-metering customers, based on findings by the PUC, could increase from $16 million a year to $18.6 million if all eligible customers installed and hooked up their systems.

Rooftop solar customers argue there is no subsidy from non-solar customers for their systems.

Hundreds of rooftop solar homeowners have criticized the new rate structure, arguing they invested thousands of dollars into their systems with the expectation that the rates existing at the time would continue into the future.

The advisory committee was told there are currently 23,737 customers with connected systems representing 208.9 megawatts of production. Several thousand more customers are in the pipeline.

But interest in net metering, where rooftop solar owners receive a credit for the excess energy they generate, has fallen to nearly zero since the new rate class was established.

A February report from NV Energy on solar installations shows that only 15 applications were received in February and 15 in March, down from more than 1,300 a month prior to the rate hike.

Some rooftop solar companies are pursuing a ballot measure to restore the original net metering rates for all customers going forward to revive the industry in Nevada.

The No Solar Tax political action committee needs 55,234 valid signatures by June 21 to get the measure to the Nov. 8 general election ballot. But the legality of measure is also being challenged before the Nevada Supreme Court.

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

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