What’s Going on With Solar Power in Nevada?

Recent Solar News in Nevada Dealt a Crushing Blow to the Industry

Nevada Public Utilities Commission decided to raise rates and fees

At first blush, Nevada seems like the ideal climate for solar energy to become the power source of choice. After all, it takes a lot of juice to keep the lights of the Las Vegas strip flashing, to say nothing of the rest of the state.

One natural asset that the state has more than enough of (other than glitz and feather boas) is sunshine. So why hasn’t solar power taken over in the Silver State? Well, solar proponents say it has less to do with sunshine, and more to do with shady dealings.

Merry Christmas, Solar Customers

Just before Christmas, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission decided to raise rates and fees on all of the state’s solar adopters. It was a contentious ruling, and that’s putting it mildly. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s Sean Gallagher called the decision “…extremely detrimental to clean energy and job growth in the state,” pointing out that “…the decision takes away Nevadans’ ability to choose where their power comes from.”

The public outcry has been strong, as well. While there are only 17,000 solar customers in the state, the PUC received more than 55,000 comments criticizing the ruling, and solar companies have had little trouble finding eager participants for the protests they’ve been staging outside PUC meetings.

Even Republican Governor Brian Sandoval expressed frustration with the PUC ruling and its unfairness to rooftop solar owners. In his statement, the governor pointed out specific actions he’d taken during his tenure to increase rooftop solar in the state.

However, critics have pointed out that Sandoval himself appointed all of the PUC commissioners responsible for the ruling, and that many had strong ties to the state’s investor-owned utilities.

How the Nevada PUC Ruling Changes the Game for Solar Users

The new PUC ruling will raise the fixed charge for solar customers to $38.51 per month, a nearly 67% increase over the next four years. Simultaneously, their net metering rate will plummet from the retail rate of 11 cents per kWh to a mere 2.6 cents.

Even more concerning for existing solar customers is the fact that the initial ruling contained no grandfathering provision that would allow them to continue operating under an arrangement similar to the one they’d expected to receive when they went solar in the first place.

Before this ruling, the average Nevada solar customer was saving about $15 per month. By the time the changes fully take effect, many say their solar panels will actually end up costing them money.

In the wake of public outcry, a class-action lawsuit, and a request from the Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Nevada Public Utilities Comission has decided to review the grandfathering issue, but no mention of reconsidering net metering rates has been made.

Solar Businesses Are Leaving Nevada

SolarCity, previously Nevada’s largest solar installer, was forced to lay off all of its Nevada employees and close a brand new training center in West Las Vegas. Competitors Sunrun and Vivint appear to be following suit.

Said Sunrun’s Brian Miller, “This is the first state to close up a solar market, eliminating thousands of jobs as we speak.” Sunrun is currently mounting a lawsuit against the state.

Why Would the PUC Make Such a Decision?

To just about everyone outside the PUC, December’s ruling seems disastrously irresponsible. Even presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has sounded off on the decision, calling it “just about the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”

So why would the Public Utility Commission make such a decision? Many say it’s a clear case of corruption and cronyism, of an incumbent industry wielding its considerable power in an effort to maintain its threatened monopoly.

The critics seem to have a valid point: the PUC’s own report found that solar customers don’t impose any significant additional costs to other ratepayers, yet they’re justifying the ruling with claims to the contrary.

Then, there’s the matter of Gov. Sandoval. Despite his laudable track record of pro-solar voting, it’s worth noting that Governor Sandoval’s top two political advisers are utility lobbyists. And while his protests seem to express genuine concern about the future of the solar job growth in Nevada, it seems a little odd that he was the one who appointed the utility commissioners who made the ruling in the first place.

Can’t Stop the Sunshine

There may be clouds hanging over solar energy’s future in Nevada, but here’s to hoping they’ll be burned away soon. At this point, even “Big Power” can’t deny solar energy’s unstoppable momentum. But don’t expect them to go down without a fight.

[Photo via: Pixabay]