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Solar coalition submits double the number of signatures needed to get referendum on ballot

CARSON CITY — A pro-rooftop solar coalition Tuesday turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify a referendum on net metering for the November ballot.

Backers of a separate measure, financed primarily by casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp., to amend the state constitution to open Nevada’s electricity markets to competition turned in 100,000 signatures by a 5 p.m. deadline too.

Each measure needed 55,234 signatures from registered Nevada voters by Tuesday. The signatures were required to be turned in to the county clerks to start the verification process.

The solar coalition said it turned in 115,000 signatures for its referendum, more than twice what was required.

“Today’s signature delivery is an important step toward overturning the solar rate hike and restoring Nevadans’ freedom to affordably produce their own clean energy,” said Erin McCann, campaign manager for Bring Back Solar Alliance.

But the effort by the rooftop solar group will be for naught unless the group wins a legal challenge to the measure that will be heard by the Nevada Supreme Court. A group called Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness challenged the referendum, and a Carson City district judge agreed that the pro-solar group should have filed a different type of measure, called an initiative petition, instead of the referendum. The group is backed by the Nevada electric utility NV Energy.

The pro-solar group decided to collect signatures and challenge the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court in the meantime. The case has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The referendum would restore Nevada’s net metering program to more favorable rates for all rooftop solar customers if it wins a place on the ballot and voters approve.

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission earlier this year adopted a new rate class for rooftop solar customers who earn credits for the excess electricity their panels generate. The new, less generous rates have brought the rooftop solar industry in Nevada to a standstill.

The Las Vegas Sands-backed constitutional amendment, which goes by the name Nevadans for Clean Energy Choices, seeks to abolish NV Energy’s monopoly as Nevada’s electricity utility and allow consumers to choose how they get their power by 2023.

Voters would have to approve it twice, this November and again in 2018, before it could go into effect.

The initiative states that any business, resident or entity “has the right to choose the provider of its electric utility service,” whether that be from a competitive retail electricity market or by producing electricity for themselves or with others.

“We are pleased with the progress on this groundbreaking ballot initiative and the response from Nevada voters as we collected signatures,” attorney Matt Griffin said on behalf of the Energy Choice Initiative. “Over the past ten weeks, enthusiasm for energy freedom has grown by the day. Nevada families and business owners want lower prices and more choices, especially around renewables, for their energy needs.”

Supporters of the initiative include companies committed to sustainable energy, such as the Nevada-based data center company, Switch, and electric vehicle company Tesla.

Sands, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts filed applications with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to exit as customers of NV Energy. MGM and Wynn Resorts are moving forward with plans to exit as NV Energy customers. Sands did not pursue its exit application. The company operates The Venetian, Palazzo and the Sands Expo &Convention Center.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

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

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