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SolarCity stopping Nevada sales, installations after PUC ruling

CARSON CITY — One of the largest rooftop-solar companies in the nation announced Wednesday it is ceasing its sales and installations in Nevada following the adoption of a new net metering rate for rooftop-solar customers by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

"This is a very difficult decision but Governor (Brian) Sandoval and his PUC leave us no choice," said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. "The people of Nevada have consistently chosen solar, but yesterday their state government decided to end customer choice, damage the state's economy, and jeopardize thousands of jobs.

"The PUC has protected NV Energy's monopoly, and everyone else will lose," he said. "We have no alternative but to cease Nevada sales and installations, but we will fight this flawed decision on behalf of our Nevada customers and employees."

The company will continue to service its existing Nevada customers.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid also weighed in on the PUC decision, which will result in increased monthly fixed charges and a lower credit for excess energy produced by residential rooftop-solar systems. The 3-0 vote applies to all rooftop-solar customers starting Jan. 1 no matter when their systems were installed.

"Everyone knows how I feel about solar, including rooftop solar," he said. "This decision by the Public Utilities Commission is a setback in our efforts to make Nevada the solar capital of the country.

"I also question the legality of the PUC's decision to interfere with existing rooftop-solar agreements," Reid said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Nevadans, who already have rooftop solar, have made a financial commitment to do so. No level of government, including the Public Utilities Commission, should be able to retroactively make it more difficult for those Nevadans to pay their power bills."

Another rooftop-solar group, the Alliance for Solar Choice, said Tuesday it will file a legal challenge to the PUC decision.

NV Energy said only it is reviewing the decision to determine the effect on customers. There are 14,832 interconnected net metering customers at Nevada Power Co. in Southern Nevada, and 2,423 customers with Sierra Pacific in Northern Nevada.

Sandoval responded to the SolarCity statement, saying solar officials "have attempted to pressure my office to improperly influence the PUC's independent decision-making process and resorted to bullying tactics such as threatening mass layoffs of Nevadans."

"I support a solar future for this state," he said. "In fact, more than $5 billion of renewable projects have been installed in Nevada during my administration. However, the state must also strike a balance between helping to develop the solar industry, which I believe has tremendous potential, while ensuring just and reasonable energy rates for all Nevadans."

Sandoval said nonsolar ratepayers are subsidizing rooftop solar consumers. Nevada has to determine the best way to help develop an emerging industry while ensuring the families who consume traditional energy sources are not paying more just to finance the rooftop solar marketplace, he said.

"The solar industry should respect the legal process and I ask the industry to approach the PUC's decisions thoughtfully and reasonably," Sandoval said. "A process for reconsideration and even judicial review is afforded to all parties."

SolarCity, in its announcement, noted that Sandoval's Office of Economic Development helped bring the company to Nevada in 2013, and encouraged the company to create local jobs.

"Accepting the Governor's invitation, the company expanded to Nevada and has hired more than 2,000 local workers in just over two years," the statement said. "The state also created a rebate program to entice Nevadans to go solar, and many chose to do so."

The rooftop-solar industry helped Nevada become No. 1 in the nation in solar jobs per capita in 2014, the announcement said. With abundant sunshine and a populace eager to adopt solar energy and save on electricity bills, the industry was poised to become a cornerstone of the state's innovation economy.

SolarCity said the PUC decision "amounts to a massive bait and switch for the local solar industry and its customers right before the holidays."

The PUC "has effectively shut down the rooftop-solar industry and taken the extraordinary step to punish over 12,000 existing solar customers, including schools, with exorbitant fees in what appears to be an attempt to protect the profits of the state's largest utility. All three members of the PUC, who voted unanimously to change the rules, were appointed by Governor Sandoval."

Rive said: "Most disturbing is the PUC's decision to retroactively sabotage existing solar customers' investments by changing the rules on them. The Nevada government encouraged these people to go solar with financial incentives and pro-solar policies, and now the same government is punishing them for their decision with new costs they couldn't have foreseen. These actions are certainly unethical, unprecedented, and possibly unlawful. While the rest of the country embraces a clean energy future, Nevada is moving backwards."

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

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