Regulators bring back favorable rates for solar customers

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More than 30,000 Nevada electric power customers who installed rooftop solar panels on their homes and businesses before this year will continue to receive retail-rate compensation under Nevada’s net metering program, state regulators determined Friday.

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada unanimously approved a deal struck between NV Energy, the state’s largest utility, and SolarCity Corp., the nation’s largest solar company, to “grandfather” existing solar owners under net metering rules that until December were considered among the nation’s most generous.

That changed, however, when the PUC in December adopted rules that reduced the rate of compensation for rooftop solar producers to the wholesale rate of electricity (2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour) rather than the retail rate (11 cents per kWh). The new rules also imposed a 300 percent increase in fees for solar owners to participate in net metering in NV Energy’s service area.

The changes set off a firestorm, with renewable energy advocates and solar companies accusing the state of effectively killing one of its most successful renewable energy policies. SolarCity and competitor Sunrun Inc. even decamped from the Silver State to focus expansion efforts elsewhere (ClimateWire, Jan. 11).

On Friday, solar firms and advocacy groups praised what they called a much-needed correction in the PUC’s view of solar and distributed generation. Solar owners who participate in net metering will be compensated for 20 years under the terms of their original contracts with NV Energy.

Solar owners who applied to install solar systems by Dec. 1, 2015, will see their rates stay unchanged until Nov. 30, 2036, according to the deal, which also included the Nevada attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Jon Wellinghoff, SolarCity’s chief policy officer and a former Nevada consumer advocate, called the new agreement, the terms of which were disclosed last week, “a victory not only for 32,000 solar customers in Nevada, but also for all Americans who expect these investments to be protected.”

NV Energy CEO Paul Caudill issued a statement Friday afternoon saying the agreement is “fair for this set of existing net metering customers, and at the same time reinforces the clear path forward … for those considering rooftop solar in the future.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who came under political fire for the PUC’s December decision and established a task force early this year to make recommendations on how to integrate existing solar customers into a new state policy on net metering, also endorsed the agreement, adding, “It’s time to move on.”

National solar nonprofit group Vote Solar, which had sued to reverse Nevada’s rollback of net metering rates, said in a statement that the agreement is beneficial because “it protects current solar customers’ investments,” but that it leaves the future of solar power in the state uncertain, as new solar adopters will still see higher fees and lower compensation.

“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,” said Jessica Scott, Vote Solar’s interior West regional director.

While Nevada’s net metering dispute has found temporary resolution, issues around customer compensation for solar owners remain in flux in other states, including Arizona, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Florida, according to the latest “50 States of Solar” report issued by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center.

According to the Raleigh-based center, 24 states considered formal changes to net metering policies during the second quarter of 2016, while 25 states and the District of Columbia considered actions that would increase fixed charges on residential solar owners.