Nevada’s promising rooftop solar industry hit a wall last year, after state legislation slashed rates for net metering and cut into financial incentives for homeowners. The new standard rendered solar panels a costly investment out of range for a majority of Nevadans, and was pushed largely by the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Lucky for some, a small reprieve was granted to users who established their systems prior to the legislation. Due in part to advocacy by the solar industry, 32,000 rooftop solar owners were grandfathered into the net metering program, guaranteeing for two decades a continuation of financial reimbursement for surplus solar energy.
Shutting Out the Sun
In May of 2015, Nevada senators unanimously passed SB374. The measure, lauded by Democrats and Republicans alike, allows the Public Utilities Commission to limit the percentage limit of Nevadans able to produce solar power. The cap is set at about 7,500 megawatts -- a single Super Wal-Mart alone consumes nearly 1 MW a year. NV Energy, the public utility in control of providing grid power to the entirety of the state and a subsidy of Berkshire Hathaway, collaborated extensively with the PUC to develop the outlines of the bill. As with many entities beneath Berkshire Hathaway, NV Energy has taken a firm stance to eliminate net metering and add an additional fee to solar energy users.
The bill ultimately permits the PUC to levy as many as three tariffs on net-metered customers’ bills, and instructs the institution to assess the metering program every three years. Net metering rates were stalled state-wide.
The event inspired a fair amount of suspicion and concern for transparency. Though a hotly contested issue, the Senate offered no public hearings for solar companies, consumers, state officials, and/or utilities to pose questions or offer testimony. The vote was also conducted on a Sunday, when many lobbyists and media are not present in the Legislature.
Regret in Retrospect
Though it’s been less than two years since the change, several lawmakers are pushing back the legislation, and have launched a fight to reorient the solar industry in their state. Unfortunately, net metering proposals, which may revoke last year’s consequential policy or seek to lessen its severity, aren’t expected to emerge until later on in the current session.
But progress is being made in the meantime. Both the state Assembly and state Senate have designated subcommittees to focus on state renewable energy goals and resurrecting net metering rates, hoping to devise strategies to make solar energy units an attractive and realistic choice for the average Nevadan-- and to revive the once-robust workforce of solar installers and maintenance servicepeople.
Last year, the state’s installation sector experienced a 32% loss in business, will jobs plunging to 5,598 from a formerly healthy body of 8,285 individuals. Once considered the leading state for per capita solar employment in the country, Nevada’s inhospitality drove away many large companies involved in rooftop solar.
“I don’t know that we had enough information and enough guidance in that bill,” said State Assembly subcommittee chairman Chris Brooks. “And the results were unsatisfactory for most everyone involved. So now I think the Nevada Legislature has to take up those conversations.”