Update: The PUC voted yesterday against a stay of its order. Here is a Facebook video of actor Mark Ruffalo speaking at the meeting during public comment.
The Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is meeting tomorrow to consider a stay on an order that, critics say, will considerably raise the rates paid by utility customers who sell back solar-generated power to utility companies.
The issue is complicated, but there is a documented history for why the PUC made its decision over net-metering rates paid by rooftop-solar customers.
Here are four things to know:
1. The PUC was mandated by law, Senate Bill 374 passed last legislative session, to adjust the net-metering rules for Nevada. The PUC held a hearing November 18-20, 2015 to establish new rules by the legislatively required deadline of January 1, 2016. A draft order was approved by the PUC December 22, 2015.
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2. The PUC based its decision on its interpretation of SB 374. According to PUC documents, “the Nevada Legislature passed SB 374, directing the PUC to examine the rates applicable to net metering customers and to identify and eliminate any unreasonable shifts in costs from net metering customers to other customers.”
In short, the PUC is saying that its order “will transition Nevada to a net metering framework that allows the rooftop solar industry to stand on its own without receiving a hidden subsidy in the form of a discriminatory rate design that benefits net metering customers at the expense of other ratepayers.”
PUC Chair David Noble is quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal as saying, “This unfair cost-shifting borne by the majority (currently 98 percent) of non-NEM ratepayers is not in the public interest.”
NV Energy agreed with the PUC’s decision. In an online statement, the utility company wrote, “NV Energy believes that the PUC order implements one of the primary goals of SB 374 by establishing a sustainable environment for renewable distributed generation. The order separates the prices of energy and related services provided by NV Energy, and the intermittent renewable energy provided to NV Energy by net metering customers.”
3. Solar businesses and industry advocates are crying foul. They say that the decision made by the PUC does not follow the intent of SB 374, a law solar industry groups originally championed.
SunRun’s Lauren Randall, speaking on behalf of The Alliance for Solar Choice, a group comprising rooftop solar companies, explained that, “SB 374 says that the statute is supposed to ‘encourage private investments in renewable energy resources; stimulate economic growth of the state; and enhance the continued diversification of the energy resources used in this State.’
“The PUC’s decision doesn’t follow the law. It does not encourage private investment in renewable energy resources, and does not follow the other tenets of SB 374 (listed above). The anti-solar decision significantly reduces, and in many cases eliminates, solar savings for consumers. As a result, companies can’t sell solar in (Nevada) and hundreds of employees have already lost their jobs.”
4. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is urging aggrieved parties to resolve the issue through formal channels.
“The solar industry should respect the legal process, and I ask the industry to approach the PUC’s decisions thoughtfully and reasonably,” he said. “A process for reconsideration and even judicial review is afforded to all parties.”
The state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is also asking the PUC to reconsider its decision. The PUC is meeting tomorrow to consider a stay of its order.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.