Solar customers in Nevada are taking legal action against NV Energy in response to controversial changes to the state's net-metering program.
Plaintiffs John Bamforth and Stanley Schone filed a class action lawsuit on January 12 seeking recompense for being misled into purchasing solar systems “that do not provide the promised rebates, discounts and rates.”
The case stems from the Nevada Public Utility Commission’s recent decision to lower the net-metering credit for rooftop solar customers from the retail rate to the wholesale rate over the next four years. The decision also lowers solar customers’ monthly volumetric charge by about 1 cent over the same period, while increasing the monthly fixed charge for the bulk of Nevada customers from $12.75 to $38.51.
The changes came into effect on January 1 and apply to all future rooftop solar customers in Nevada, as well as the 17,000 existing solar customers in the state.
Last Wednesday, the PUC refused to implement a stay on the new regulation until the effects of the change could be fully evaluated. Many solar customers say the decision wipes out all of their savings from going solar, and could actually increase their monthly electricity bills.
Bamforth and Schone argue that the state and NV Energy misled solar customers by approving rebate programs to encourage the development of renewable energy, then "conspired to unlawfully reduce incentives" in order to reduce competition from solar companies.
The lawsuit accuses NV Energy of “anticompetitive actions, deceptive and unfair trade practices resulting in a restraint of trade, monopolization and maintenance of a monopoly over the electric utility in Nevada, price discrimination between different buyers, artificial price inflation, conspiracy to cause the aforementioned results through illegal means and negligence.”
Anne-Marie Cuneo, director of regulatory operations at the Nevada PUC, firmly denied the commission’s solar ruling was inappropriately influenced by NV Energy.
“That is an absolutely shameful accusation,” she said in an interview last week with the PBS local affiliate KNPB.
“The commission hears almost 500 cases a year, and if you look at their record, they clearly don’t favor NV Energy on many of the other cases,” she said. “To make a statement like that based on the outcome of a single data point is irresponsible.”
Separate from the lawsuit, at least five petitions for reconsideration have been filed with the PUC seeking to have the new tariff thrown out. The Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection is among the petitioners. Regulators have until February 17 to respond.
Solar installers argue the net-metering changes are not only unfair for existing customers, but also make it uneconomical for homeowners to go solar in the future -- effectively killing Nevada’s solar market.
SolarCity, Sunrun and Vivint, three of the largest solar companies in the country, recently ceased operations in Nevada, resulting in at least 650 lost jobs. On Friday, the family-owned business Go Solar announced it has been forced to lay off 17 of its 50 employees.