Nevada’s reputation for innovation is growing across the country.
Just two years ago, my company — SolarCity — was looking for places to grow our business, and in particular a state that could support our growing technical, IT and construction needs. After a yearlong search, we settled on Nevada. For the entire solar industry, it has been a match made in heaven, bringing nearly 6,000 good-paying jobs to the state, driving $569 million in investments to Nevada in 2014, and joining gaming and mining as industries where Nevada has an advantage over much of the nation. Nevada’s solar industry grew by 146 percent in 2014, making Nevada the top solar jobs state per capita in the country. Solar is growing all across the country, but other states can only wish they had Nevada’s level of success.
But as change and innovation become a stronger part of the state’s identity, there’s only one catch: the beneficiaries of the old status quo are fighting with all their might to keep change from happening. In this case, it is the utility companies who have benefited for decades from a monopoly on electricity. And a monopoly is the largest subsidy a business can have.
Nevada Energy submitted a proposal to the state’s Public Utilities Commission that would entirely undermine the economics of the only competition it has ever faced, the solar industry. Its proposal includes new charges and fees that would discriminate against solar customers. By NV Energy’s own math, their proposal would increase solar customers’ utility bills by around 40 percent. These proposals would hurt Nevada ratepayers, who have done their part to reduce their energy use by installing solar.
This is the opposite of innovation, and it hurts the public. As many Nevada families struggle just to get by, their choice to go solar and take control of their utility bills is a matter of critical family economics. Nevadans’ 15,000 rooftop solar systems contribute energy to the state’s electricity grid and provide savings to NV Energy by reducing the amount of energy the utility needs to purchase or produce, and the grid infrastructure needed to transmit that energy. In 2014, a study commissioned by the Public Utilities Commission itself found that net metering benefits nonsolar customers from $36 million to more than $160 million over the life of the systems examined by the study. That’s real money, and the utility isn’t necessarily entitled to it if its customers choose to use less utility power, and buy more from somewhere else.
My plea to the Public Utilities Commission is simple: do not allow an entrenched interest to dictate the business of its largest competitor. If you would not allow a horse-and-buggy company to set the pricing for the Model T, do not accept a proposal from NV Energy that would prevent customers from choosing a less expensive, cleaner and better alternative.
In celebrating the growth of Nevada’s solar industry, Gov. Brian Sandoval praised the industry for making Nevada “a leader in new technology and innovation.” And it’s clear from the solar industry’s rapid growth in Nevada that, when given a choice, Nevadans will overwhelmingly choose innovation.
In Nevada, conditions are perfect for solar. Nevada has a tremendous natural solar resource, a talented workforce and strong solar policies in place. The only thing that could block our progress is a monopoly’s efforts to restrict its competitor’s growth.
If Nevada truly wants to continue to attract and retain the jobs and industries of the 21st century, our state must allow these industries the freedom to succeed.
— Lyndon Rive is CEO of SolarCity.