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PUC gets it wrong with rooftop solar ruling

We have an NV Energy power line on our property. But we’ve never sent NV Energy a bill with the expectation that they pay us for the use of our property. We also produce our own power and, during mild-temperature months, we receive credits from NV Energy that we use during the cold winters and hot summers.

So we never expected that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada would be given the power to bill us for the energy we contribute back to the grid.

Apparently, NV Energy officials think we owe something for producing our own power — and using less of theirs. Last month, the energy provider convinced new PUC Chairman Paul Thomsen and the rest of the commission to approve an outrageous proposal that harms thousands of solar homeowners and threatens the livelihood of thousands more.

Let’s review the facts: two days before Christmas, the PUC effectively wiped out Nevadans’ ability to produce their own power through low-cost, rooftop solar panels. Under the leadership of Thomsen, just a couple of months into his new job, the public “servants” on the commission took unanimous action at the behest of NV Energy.

But it gets worse. The PUC didn’t just ruin future solar customer’s ability to produce their own power; the commission also took that ability away from more than 12,000 Nevadans whom the PUC had encouraged to go solar over the past several years. It was an outlandish bait-and-switch from a public agency that is supposed to protect ratepayers, not rip them off.

Solar customers contribute power back to the grid. In addition, because solar doesn’t require new infrastructure, we ease the costs for NV Energy. But, apparently, even that’s not enough. The company wants to get paid even when people use less of its product.

Because of this decision, other solar customers who are leasing their panels can no longer get the retail rate for the excess energy they provide back to the power grid. Instead, NV Energy will only give them the much lower wholesale price.

The most galling part of the ruling is that Nevada is still recovering from the Great Recession. The PUC’s decision will put as many as 5,000 solar workers out on the streets. That’s not even counting the jobs that depend on the state having a solar industry.

Think about it: Nevada’s renewable energy market was expected to meet 77 percent of the state’s energy demand by 2030 and attract millions of dollars in new investment. But instead, in the sunniest state in the country, the entire solar industry has been grounded to a halt by the PUC. Hundreds of thousands of potential new customers will never choose solar, more than 10,000 existing homeowners will have money taken from their pockets as a gift to NV Energy, and thousands will lose their jobs.

The PUC’s latest actions make it obvious that it, as well as other regulatory bodies, are in fundamental need of reforms to make them more transparent and accountable to the citizens affected by an agency’s decisions.

Sixty percent of Nevadans opposed NV Energy’s net metering plan, and 96 percent support access to rooftop solar. Furthermore, the PUC ignored its own study outlining the benefits of net metering for all Nevada residents, instead choosing to pad the already-huge profits of the utility monopoly. The PUC is working against the people of Nevada and on behalf of NV Energy.

Several weeks into the job, and all we get from Chairman Thomsen is a decision that expands the profits of a utility monopoly? What were the commissioners thinking?

Maybe the commissioners are the ones who should be thrown out of their jobs, not the people who help pay their salaries.

— Tara Pike and Nick Nordstrom are husband and wife who reside in Las Vegas.

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