Heated debate in Nev. over solar net metering settles down 

Source: Krysti Shallenberger, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tension over an amendment on a Nevada state Senate bill that re-evaluates the solar net metering cap appears to have dialed down, even as lawmakers expressed frustration over lobbying tactics.

The Nevada Assembly’s Committee on Commerce and Labor heard testimony from industry and state officials Wednesday on S.B. 374, which proposed assigning the state’s Public Utilities Commission to determine a new net metering tariff that would satisfy both parties without shifting additional costs to ratepayers, said primary sponsor state Sen. Patricia Farley (R) during the hearing.

“[The bill] requires the PUC to do a thorough analysis on what should be done about [net metering tariffs],” Farley said at the hearing. In 2013, Nevada’s Legislature ordered the commission to raise the cap on solar production to 3 percent of a utility’s peak power load, according to the PUC’s website.

The Nevada bill gained attention nationally as the solar industry and the state’s major public utility, NV Energy, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., argued over the terms of raising the cap.

Solar advocates were pressing the Nevada Legislature to raise the net metering cap — the customer’s ability to sell excess green energy back to the grid — from 3 percent to 10 percent of peak load this year, citing potential business losses as consumers slowly max out the cap, according to USA Today (ClimateWire, May 20).

“Unless the cap is lifted, rooftop solar in Nevada is going to wither, leading to job losses and reduced economic activity,” Ken Johnson, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, wrote EnergyWire in an email.

NV Energy didn’t return calls or emails for comment.

A pivotal player in the U.S. solar industry, Nevada can claim 789 megawatts in installed solar, with 109 solar companies employing 5,900 Nevadans according to SEIA.

Crusades against net metering have sprung up in states such as Montana and Arizona. Utilities argue that net metering customers don’t shoulder their fair share of fixed costs to maintain the grid (EnergyWire, May 19).

SEIA’s Johnson described the current battle over net metering in Nevada as a “choice about marketplace.”

During the hearing, Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D) expressed her anger over lobbying tactics, pointing to SolarCity emails in particular.

“I get it, I want to support solar,” Kirkpatrick said at the hearing. “I don’t have to like it, but I support the industry. I’m willing to be fair … and have a real discussion about policy.”

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, who previously blasted NV Energy’s opposition to raising the cap, supported the bill in his testimony during the hearing.

“We totally agree with the current bill, and we don’t have any concern,” Rives said. But he questioned the possible impacts on Nevada’s solar developers and consumers if the industry were to hit the cap during the interim. Proposals to set a temporary tariff during that time gap were proposed.

Paul Thomsen, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy testified in support of the bill during Wednesday’s hearing.

“What the bill before us said yesterday, we think we need to re-evaluate what that power is worth, and [the] best agency to do that is the PUC,” Thomsen told EnergyWire.

If the bill is passed, the PUC will be tasked with studying and evaluating the state’s solar industry to determine the best rates for net-metered solar, with a deadline set for the end of 2015. Currently, the bill is scheduledfor discussion on May 23.