On Wednesday evening, the Nevada Public Utility Commission voted unanimously to deny a stay on new rates for rooftop solar customers, which companies say will destroy the state's residential solar market.
The decision upholds the PUC’s December ruling to eliminate retail-rate net metering for both new and existing solar customers, which took effect on January 1. The vote is a major blow for solar advocates, who pushed for the PUC to delay implementation of the rate change until the impacts of the new tariff could be properly assessed.
Solar experts say the retroactive application of the new rate plan is particularly problematic, since many customers signed long-term solar contracts under a certain set of conditions that have now unexpectedly changed.
Ahead of the vote, the PUC held a day-long hearing where nearly 500 solar customers registered to testify. Outraged Nevada residents said that the state misled them into going solar and then changed the rules of the game. Some were worried that they wouldn’t be able to sell their homes because their electricity costs are now significantly higher than those of their neighbors who don’t have solar.
Around 1,000 solar customers and solar workers protested against the net-metering changes in Las Vegas yesterday. They were joined by Green Tea Party activist Debbie Dooley and actor and climate activist Mark Ruffalo.
The Nevada debate made it all the way to the national stage, with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighing in on the issue. Existing solar customers “shouldn't see that investment absolutely destroyed,” she said in a recent interview.
Bernie Sanders also expressed his support. "I stand with the hundreds of Nevadans asking [the Nevada PUC] to protect NV solar jobs and investments in our clean energy future," he wrote in a tweet.
Meanwhile, regulators indicated that they would oppose requests to delay the rate change, arguing that the new rate prevents a cost shift from Nevada’s roughly 17,000 solar customers to non-solar customers. According to the PUC’s draft report, the cost shift under the old net-metering regime amounted to about $16 million per year.
“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable to try to protect 98 percent of residents in this state who don’t have net metering on their roofs,” said Nevada PUC Chairman Paul Thomsen at yesterday’s hearing, KTVN reports. “I think we can find a balance.”
Under the new tariff, compensation for net excess solar generation will gradually decline from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity over the next four years.
Solar companies say the new rates are unworkable -- citing the broad application of the rule as a major concern. SolarCity, Vivint and Sunrun have already ceased operations in Nevada and laid off hundreds of workers. The Nevada decision sets a disconcerting precedent with roughly half of all states in the country currently considering or studying changes to their net metering programs.
Sunrun and the Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection, which filed the original request for a stay, filed a motion for reconsideration on Thursday.
"We think, having heard from the public, the commissioners may be compelled to reconsider the type of harm this decision has caused. In particular for the 17,000 customers who were baited and switched," said Lauren Randall, public policy manager at Sunrun.
"If the commissioners don't change their minds, we will sue," she added.