EDITORIAL: Net metering decision correct

All investments carry some degree of risk. As a result, a lot of investments don’t pan out.

Take rooftop solar panels. The industry, long propped up by tax credits and subsidies, was viable solely because of political interventions. Homeowners and businesses installed panels at little to no cost and were overcompensated for the surplus power they generated, allowing them to realize a reduction in their power bills at the expense of those who did not invest in solar panels.

The entire arrangement — a web of federal tax breaks, state utility regulation, private-party leases and politically correct, environmental coercion — was always at risk of collapsing with a single unfavorable change in policy. That reality made investment in net metering plenty risky.

But to hear the solar panel industry and its customers today, their sudden change in fortune is an outrage. Last month, the Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to increase NV Energy’s monthly fixed charge to rooftop solar customers and reduce their credits for surplus energy delivered to the grid. The changes apply not merely to future rooftop solar customers, but to the more than 17,000 existing panel owners who thought their investment was guaranteed.

There is no such thing. The PUC rightly decided that allowing panel owners to collect retail rates for their surplus power unfairly burdened the rest of the state’s power customers. Going forward, solar customers will have to pay more for their connection to the grid and get by with wholesale rates on their surplus electricity. The state has always retained the power to change the rules of net metering, and companies such as SolarCity have always disclosed the risks of such changes.

The new rates were supposed to take effect this weekend, and the PUC on Thursday will consider a stay on those rates. The PUC should stand its ground. It’s time for rooftop solar to stand on its own.

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