Sen. Harry Reid on Monday called on NV Energy to “get real” about rooftop solar or risk alienating customers and perhaps losing in court.
Instead of treating such distributed generation as a burden, Reid said the utility needs to “become more realistic about what consumers want.”
“If NV Energy continues on the path they’re on, they’re going to lose,” he said during his eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit at Mandalay Bay.
The comments came as NV Energy, state regulators and solar industry advocates continue to scrap over credits the utility says have reached their limit but that solar firms insist are needed to keep the rooftop market alive.
At issue is net metering, which allows rooftop solar customers to receive credits for excess electricity they generate and deliver to the utility from their installations.
NV Energy announced last week that a 235-megawatt cap on net-metering capacity had been reached months sooner than expected, and any future applications for rooftop arrays would be subject to new net-metering rules and rates the Nevada Public Utilities Commission is expected to set by the end of the year.
The commission is now at work on an interim net-metering tariff to bridge the gap until those new rules are adopted.
NV Energy has proposed a new rate that The Alliance for Solar Choice says would end rooftop solar in Nevada and cost 6,000 jobs. The national advocacy group for the panel industry has proposed that the existing net-metering policy be extended through Dec. 31 when the PUC is required to finalize the new rate.
“This is the most extreme anti-solar proposal anywhere in the country,” said Bryan Miller, alliance member and vice president of public policy and power markets for the rooftop solar company Sunrun Inc. “It would completely eliminate the solar market.”
Miller said NV Energy admits in its filing with the PUC that under the proposed rules and rates the cost of installing a rooftop solar system would likely result in customers paying more for energy than those who do not install such systems.
The explosive growth of the rooftop solar industry has dominated much of the discussion during Reid’s annual clean energy confab. There was even an official debate on the subject featuring two leading experts in the field.
Arguing the side of the utilities, Lisa Wood of the Edison Foundation and the Institute for Electric Innovation said the only thing that makes rooftop solar work is the existing electrical grid that utility companies spend about $20 billion annually to maintain.
“I think it’s only fair that rooftop customers who use the grid continue to pay for the grid,” she said.
But Charles Cicchetti, former chairman of the Wisconsin Public Utilities Commission now with the Pacific Economics Group, said rules curtailing rooftop solar are more about stifling competition and guaranteeing a revenue stream for large power companies.
Ultimately, Cicchetti said, utilities will only lose customers by thwarting solar installations at homes. The more resistance there is, the more it will push the sort of innovation that will allow people to disconnect from the grid altogether, he said.
In the end, both Cicchetti and Wood agreed that utilities and solar advocates must find a way to work together to, as Wood put it, “get the policies right.”
“Adversarial rate proceedings will not produce the solutions we need,” she said.
Contact Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter: @RefriedBrean