Net metering policy goes to Legislature

CARSON CITY — The Public Utilities Commission decided Friday to ask the Nevada Legislature to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the state’s net metering policy, which allows homeowners who install rooftop solar to sell surplus electricity to the local utility company.

Saying that the state of the roof-top solar industry has changed dramatically since the Legislature first established a net metering policy in 1997, Public Utility Commission Chairwoman Alaina Burtenshaw joined with Commissioner David Noble in a vote to seek that guidance in the 2015 session.

Burtenshaw said she would like direction from lawmakers on whether the PUC should have the flexibility to look at issues involving net metering as it comes up in rate cases.

The Legislature may decide to leave the statute and policy alone, she said.

“But because there has been so much change in the intervening years, that maybe it’s a good time to bring it back up to them and say, ‘Do you want to give us the flexibility to take a look at rates and how we can design them in a way that furthers the goals of both groups,’ ” Burtenshaw said.

Noble said the he believes the commission needs to be given the tools to appropriately design rates.

“That to me, I think, is just a very broad but I think critical piece of authority we need going forward,” he said.

Noble’s original draft order was modified however, at the recommendation of Burtenshaw, partly to remove language that recommended that the Nevada Legislature “remove any statutory constraints” on the commission’s authority to accurately assign net metering costs and benefits to the appropriate ratepayers.

The language had raised concerns from the rooftop-solar industry.

The 2-1 vote was opposed by Commissioner Rebecca Wagner, who argued that a study prepared by a consultant at the request of lawmakers in 2013 should stand on its own without any accompanying recommendations about the state’s policy on net metering.

The net metering study by San Francisco-based Energy + Environmental Economics (E3 concluded in part: “Overall, we do not estimate a substantial cost shift to nonparticipants due to (net metering) going forward given the current and proposed reforms to the program.”

Current Nevada law, which mirrors other states with rooftop-solar industries, says a utility “shall not charge a customer-generator any fee or charge that would increase the customer-generator’s minimum monthly charge to an amount greater than that of other customers of the utility in the same rate class as the customer-generator.”

One potential concern for rooftop-solar advocates is whether a separate rate class will be established for residential customers of NV Energy who install rooftop solar. Such a move concerns the industry because it could lead to higher rates in an effort to discourage rooftop-solar development.

But Wagner, who said she opposes establishing a separate rate class for net metering customers, disputed the contentions of some commercial rooftop solar industry advocates who have expressed concerns the PUC could be considering changes that would harm the fledgling industry.

She said any view that there is a major shift in net metering policy is “extremely exaggerated.”

“I think Commissioner Noble and Chairwoman Burtenshaw are just highlighting their desire for flexibility,” Wagner said.

Participation in net metering so far in Nevada is limited. NV Energy has about 2,455 net metering customers with 35.8 megawatts installed in Southern Nevada. There are about 3,000 such customers statewide.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

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