PUC rejects bid to continue net metering program

CARSON CITY — The Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday rejected a request by rooftop-solar officials to continue the existing net metering program if a legislatively mandated cap of 235 megawatts is reached in coming weeks.

The Alliance for Solar Choice had asked the commission in a petition to continue the existing program until a new net metering rate is adopted to ensure the industry is not disrupted when the cap is reached, which could come as soon as Aug. 27.

But following 5½ hours of public testimony, commissioners said they had no authority to extend the existing net metering program beyond the cap. The bill passed by the 2015 Legislature allowed for no such action, commissioners said.

“We hear what is being said,” said Commissioner Rebecca Wagner. “It is frustrating when you can’t do anything about it, necessarily.”

Wagner said she reviewed Senate Bill 374 looking for a way around the mandated cap but found no way to take action in support of the petition.

The issue remains in front of the commission, however. NV Energy filed a new net metering rate proposal on July 31 that is before the panel.

The PUC has set a meeting for Aug. 21 to consider interim rates to ensure the industry can continue uninterrupted if the cap is reached in the near future. Following that hearing, the PUC could adopt a new, interim net metering rate by its meeting scheduled for Aug. 26. A new tariff would allow new net metering customers to apply and have solar systems installed.

Lawmakers who passed the measure requiring the PUC to set a new rate for rooftop-solar customers were told just a few months ago that the cap would not be reached until sometime in 2016, giving regulators plenty of time to craft a new rate by a Dec. 31 deadline.

But that estimate has proved to be way off-base.

NV Energy, on its website, shows that 224.8 megawatts of net metering have been allocated so far, with 10.2 megawatts remaining. NV Energy does business as Nevada Power Co. in Southern Nevada.

Concern over jobs

The PUC decision came after hours of public testimony, much of it from rooftop-solar workers who expressed concern they could lose their jobs if the industry’s growth is interrupted due to the net metering cap being reached.

Several hundred supporters attended the PUC meeting in Las Vegas, with dozens speaking to the commission. Dozens more participated from Carson City.

Ted Massouras, a senior regional sales manager for SolarCity, said his company’s 60 jobs in Reno are at stake. He asked that the existing policy be continued until a new rate is adopted by the PUC.

Massouras said NV Energy’s proposed new tariff is “a way to cut out solar in Nevada and eliminate jobs.”

Assemblywoman Shelly Shelton, R-Las Vegas, said there is no desire by lawmakers to eliminate the rooftop-solar industry in Nevada despite concerns expressed by some of her constituents. The rate process needs to be allowed to proceed, Shelton said.

But Louise Helton, owner of 1 Sun Solar Cos. in Las Vegas, said lawmakers were told the projection for the current cap would be reached was sometime in 2016, not in the next few days. The public did not get much opportunity to comment on the bill that passed in the last few days of the session, she said. Helton urged the PUC to let the current program continue.

David von Seggern, chairman of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, said rooftop solar should be encouraged in Nevada. Rooftop solar provides valuable energy to the grid, creates well-paying jobs and results in cleaner air, he said. It will also help Nevada meet new EPA mandates on carbon emissions, von Seggern said.

“We should do everything possible to foster the solar industry for Nevada’s future,” he said.

Net metering allows rooftop-solar customers to receive a credit for excess electricity they generate. There are 11,118 rooftop-solar customers in Nevada now, with about 9,500 in Southern Nevada.

The subsidy argument

NV Energy has proposed a new tariff for new customers who want to install rooftop solar, but solar industry officials say the new rate would drive the industry out of Nevada along with its 6,000 jobs.

NV Energy has argued that the current net metering policy requires a subsidy from other ratepayers and it has asked the PUC to adopt the new rate by Sept. 15.

The new net metering rate would provide a credit of 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour to residential rooftop-solar generators instead of the current 11.6 cents. NV Energy says the new rate ensures there will be no subsidy paid to rooftop-solar customers by other ratepayers.

But the utility acknowledged in its filing that when the cost of installing a rooftop-solar system is included, net metering customers could end up paying more for their energy than nonsolar customers.

Bryan Miller, an executive with the rooftop-solar company Sunrun Inc. and a member of TASC, called the new tariff “the most extreme anti-solar proposal anywhere in the country.”

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

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