Solar advocates continue to advance a ballot initiative that would restore Nevada’s retail-rate net metering policy, despite legal challenges from a utility-backed political group.

Earlier this month, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted not to grandfather existing customers onto a new rooftop solar tariff that was initially approved in December. Solar companies say the new rates are unfair to current solar customers and have made it impossible to attract new ones.

The No Solar Tax PAC, the political action committee spearheading the solar ballot initiative, announced this week that it had secured the support of more than 90,000 residents, collecting 18,000 signatures during the Nevada caucuses.

On February 12, Carson City-based attorney James Cavilia filed to create a separate PAC called Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness, designed to “advocate for, or oppose” net metering programs. Days later, PAC filed a legal challenge to the pro-solar referendum.

Bob Greenlee, spokesperson for the Bring Back Solar Alliance, the organization supporting No Solar Tax PAC, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the “baseless” legal challenge.

On Wednesday, NV Energy confirmed to Politico that it is backing Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness. The utility did not immediately reply to a request for comment on their motivation for supporting the PAC, or how it sees the distributed solar market evolving in Nevada under the new rate scheme.

NV Energy argued last year that retail-rate net metering results in an unfair subsidy for rooftop solar customers. Based on NV Energy figures, the PUC determined there was a $16 million annual cost shift onto non-solar ratepayers.

Solar advocates maintain that distributed solar provides a net benefit to the grid.

The No Solar Tax PAC referendum specifically proposes to strike out portions of Senate Bill 374, legislation that enabled the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to change the rates for rooftop solar. Greenlee said public support for the measure has spiked with the revelation of NV Energy’s opposition.

So far, the campaign has secured commitments of support from more than 90,000 residents. However, the PAC will still have to secure official signatures once the referendum language is confirmed.

First, the ballot initiative will have to survive the legal challenge, which will be heard in a Nevada circuit court before March 28. If the court rejects the petition, solar advocates can reintroduce it or appeal.

Meanwhile, rooftop solar applications have dropped precipitously since the new solar rates came into effect on January 1. NV Energy figures show that 1,311 residents in southern Nevada had submitted solar interconnection applications in December. In January, that number fell to 90 applications -- a decrease of more than 90 percent.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who appointed the three-member PUC and is a potential Supreme Court pick, has been distancing himself from the unpopular PUC decision (as well as the Supreme Court). He said the PUC’s decision not to grandfather existing customers onto the new solar rates was disappointing.

On Tuesday, Sandoval signed an executive order to convene a task force that will help the governor’s Office of Energy support the development of renewable energy and distributed energy resources in Nevada going forward.

“There are few more critical issues to Nevada’s future than clean and renewable energy,” Sandoval said in a statement. “Not only does this sector drive many economic development opportunities, but it also helps us improve the quality of life for many Nevadans by helping keep our air clean, water fresh, and allows us to explore our unlimited potential in the wealth of renewables Nevada has to offer.”