Nevada Solar Settlement: Good News and Bad News

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The forces of Buffett and Musk reach a truce over net metering.

After more than a year of battling over the future of net metering in Nevada, the State District Court for Carson City ruled that a Public Utilitiy Commission of Nevada (PUCN) decision to hike rates on existing solar net metering customers gave inadequate notice and did not satisfy the due process clause of the Nevada Constitution, making the rate hike unlawful. However, the decision was only a partial victory for solar advocates, as it only grandfathers existing systems and does not protect future installations.

Both sides claimed victory in the glass-half-full scenario. “The commission is pleased that the court affirmed the commission’s order on all substantive issues related to net energy metering (NEM) rates,” the PUCN said in a Sept. 14 statement. Meanwhile, Vote Solar released a statement; “Vote Solar applauds today’s PUCN decision to restore net metering for existing solar customers,” said Jessica Scott, Interior West Regional Director for Vote Solar. “While this decision rights a serious wrong for current customers, we urge the legislature to adopt sound energy policies in the upcoming session that will bring solar jobs and solar savings back to Nevada.”

The Nevada legal fight over net metering in many ways has been a war by proxy of the battling billionaires of the American energy industry.  On the side of net metering is Elon Musk and his company SolarCity. SolarCity was a leading installer of rooftop and indie net metered systems in Nevada before the passage of Senate Bill 374 in the Nevada state legislature. SB 374 instructed the PUCN to perform a study to determine whether regular ratepayers of Warren Buffet’s NV Energy, were subsidizing rooftop solar customers, and PUCN’s  then adopted a new rate class designed gut net metering and punish indie solar. SolarCity saw the writing on the wall, and closed up shop in Nevada, putting installers out of work and leaving the market wide open for development of big, corporate-owned solar facilities.

In March of this year, I reported here on Solar Tribune that “…Buffett has an amazing talent for playing the new energy business to his advantage, relying on an army of highly-paid and well-positioned lobbyists to suppress independent renewable producers through legislative and regulatory machinations. He waits for indie producers to fight their way to the establishment of the combination of lower installed price and tax credits that will make their industry viable. Then, Buffett pivots and strikes, going all-in, buying up and rapidly deploying generation assets then crushing any remaining competition through sheer volume.

NV Energy’s ever-growing political influence is paying off for Buffett, who is looking to not only stop further indie solar installations, but to choke out the state’s existing small solar producers. NV Energy has had some big wins with the state regulators, which will all but kill the rooftop solar business in the state, as well as retroactively punishing people who have already installed systems. Musk’s SolarCity cut bait and ran, laying off 550 employees. Other big solar companies like SunRun were not far behind. In a matter of months, Buffett has monopolized the Nevada solar market.”
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This most recent ruling against the PUCN is certainly grounds for relief on the part of Nevada’s current indie solar owners. However, it is by no means grounds for celebration. The ruling does nothing to restore the rights of Nevada citizens to invest personally in solar, and to take advantage of the many benefits that indie distributed solar provides to the community. It also leaves the solar playing field slanted in favor of government sanctioned monopolies like Buffet’s NV Energy.

Meanwhile, Vote Solar has hit the ground running in an attempt to get another at reinstituting Nevada residents rights to take part in the solar revolution. From their website:

“…we’re also going back to the PUCN with our partners at Earthjustice to intervene in two new regulatory processes that could have significant implications for solar access in the state. Our efforts to make the case for consumer-supported solar progress have already been met with some resistance, which we’re taking as a sign that we’re on the right track. “
The current battle brought about a truce, but the war for Nevada solar is far from over.
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