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Supreme Court rules against referendum on rooftop solar rates

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday ruled unanimously against a referendum for the Nov. 8 general election ballot that could have restored net metering to rates more favorable to the rooftop solar industry and its customers.

The court, which heard arguments on Question 5 last Friday, said the “description of effect” required to explain the effect of the measure to those signing the petition was “not only inaccurate and misleading, but also argumentative.”

The court did not address the main issue on appeal, which was whether the proposal qualified as a referendum of a law enacted by the 2015 Legislature. The court said it considers such constitutional questions only when necessary.

The ballot access battle pitted the solar industry, primarily SolarCity, against NV Energy, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned electric utility that operates as Nevada Power in Southern Nevada.

The decision means voters will not get to decide whether to overturn the 2015 law that allowed the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to impose new, higher charges for rooftop solar customers.

The pro-rooftop solar group Bring Back Solar could also still pursue an initiative petition to restore the prior net metering rates, but the group does not have plans to do so at this point. An initiative petition would first go to the Legislature and then to voters in 2018 if lawmakers did not approve such a proposal.

There is also a proposal in front of the PUC to grandfather in rooftop solar customers who had systems or valid applications as of Dec. 31, 2015, at the more financially friendly net metering rates that existed prior to Jan. 1 of this year.

NV Energy filed the grandfathering proposal last month and has asked the PUC to take expeditious action on the request. A similar measure is also expected to be introduced in the 2017 legislative session by Gov. Brian Sandoval’s administration.

In a response to the ruling, Mari St. Martin, communications director for Sandoval, said: “Governor Sandoval has been working to restore the original rates for rooftop solar customers for several months.”

Sandoval has accepted a grandfathering recommendation from the New Energy Task Force, which he reestablished, to accomplish the grandfathering in the 2017 legislative session for the 32,000 net metering customers statewide, she said.

Sandoval has said in the past that renewable energy development is a priority for his administration while ensuring Nevada has an equitable system “that balances energy policy with just and reasonable utility rates.”

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Erin McCann, campaign Manager for Bring Back Solar, issued the following statement: “While we’re disappointed that the court ruled in such a way that the people of Nevada will not be able to vote on this issue, it clarifies the role Nevada’s leadership must play in representing the majority of Nevadans who want to bring solar back to Nevada.

“Working together with legislators, key stakeholders, and Nevada’s hundreds of thousands of solar supporters, we look forward to crafting strong solar policies that give Nevadans the freedom to power their homes and communities with clean solar energy,” she said.

There was no immediate comment on the ruling from NV Energy.

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

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