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Task force recommends grandfathering in rate for rooftop solar customers

CARSON CITY — A state task force on Thursday agreed to ask the Legislature in 2017 to grandfather in as many as 31,000 existing rooftop solar customers who are in a less favorable rate class.

But the New Energy Industry Task Force, re-established by Gov. Brian Sandoval to address a number of energy issues, opted to maintain the more favorable net metering rates for 20 years rather than 25 years as recommended last week by a technical advisory committee. The rate would remain with the home.

Eligibility for the more favorable net metering rate would be based on time-stamped, approved applications by the end of 2015 that had not expired.

Starla Lacy, representing NV Energy, said the utility supports the grandfather recommendation, but only for the 20-year period.

“We are trying to be fair to all customers,” she said.

Danny Thompson, representing the AFL-CIO on the task force, said those who have been harmed by the new rate should be protected. But adding five years more to the protection would create added costs, he said.

“I represent over 200,000 people who voted to oppose subsidies for net metering,” he said.

Chandler Sherman, a spokeswoman for the Bring Back Solar Alliance, praised the vote.

“This is a tremendous victory not only for the over 23,000 Nevada families who have invested in rooftop solar, but also for all 2.8 million Nevadans,” she said. “As a new study released this week shows, rooftop solar provides all Nevadans $7 million in benefits every year.

“We look forward to working with Governor Sandoval and the Legislature to address this recommendation during next year’s legislative session,” Sherman said.

The grandfathering issue stems from a decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission earlier this year to establish a separate class for rooftop solar customers starting Jan. 1. Regulators voted to include all customers in the new rate, which is less favorable than the rules in place when they purchased their systems.

That decision prompted the task force review of whether customers who bought systems before Dec. 31 should be exempted from the new rates, established to eliminate what the PUC said is a $16 million a year subsidy to solar customers from nonsolar utility customers.

The existence of a subsidy is in dispute. Two reports that came out earlier this week suggest that rather than a subsidy, net metering — where rooftop solar homeowners receive a credit for the excess electricity they generate — actually benefits all ratepayers.

Rooftop solar homeowners have criticized the new rates, arguing they invested thousands of dollars in their systems with the expectation that the rates existing at the time would continue into the future.

At a discussion last week, the advisory committee that recommended grandfathering was told there are 23,737 customers with connected systems representing 208.9 megawatts of production. Several thousand more customers are in the pipeline.

The proposal has a long way to go before rooftop solar customers will see any relief, however. It will have to go through the legislative process and would not likely become a reality until later next year.

Interest in net metering has fallen to nearly zero since the new rate class was established. The new rate, which is being phased in over 12 years, includes a lower credit for excess electricity and a higher monthly fixed charge.

A February report from NV Energy on solar installations shows that only 15 applications were received in February and 15 in March, down from more than 1,300 a month before the rate hike.

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

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