Nevada’s Public Utility Commission has made it increasingly difficult for the state’s solar-power market, pushing out at least three solar companies. In January, the commission voted unanimously against requests to delay the implementation of controversial changes to metering rates. It approved higher charges on all small commercial and residential owners of solar rooftop generation units.
Rooftop solar customers and installers in the state had requested that the commission put a stay on the new rates and charges. However, the commission retroactively applied the rates to existing solar power systems and to new ones.
For customers of utility NV Energy, these new rates have raised the charge for rooftop solar from $12.75 to $17.90 per month in the first year of the phased increase. The rates will eventually reach $38.51 after five years. The net-energy-metering credit for current and future solar owners decreased from $0.11 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to $0.09 per kWh in the first year and will drop to $0.026 per kWh in 2020, according to news and commentary website CleanTechnica.
NV Energy is the state’s largest power utility, and it came out as the victor in the commission vote. The commission wanted to create a path for rooftop solar users that treated all ratepayers fairly.
Nevada’s solar-power market has been growing very quickly. The state’s 235-megawatt (MW) net metering cap was reached in August 2015. In May 2015, the state’s legislature asked utility regulators to develop a new solar tariff to satisfy both solar advocates and NV Energy. NV Energy had proposed lowering the remuneration rates for solar customers and increasing fixed fees.
After the cap was reached, solar-power installations were halted in Nevada, and Vivint Solar left the state. Immediately following the initial PUC rate decision, SolarCity and Sunrun left. These changes to metering rates are discouraging companies that serve the solar-power market sector in the state.
Vivint Solar CEO Greg Butterfield responded to the commission’s decision in a January press release, stating, “As I and others in the solar industry have warned for months, the decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to end its net metering program will cost jobs, economic output and consumer choice, while protecting the interests of an entrenched monopoly—NV Energy.”
Industry officials worry this move will stifle solar-power development in Nevada, one of the sunniest states. As it is, several solar-power companies have already left.
For more on this topic, see this month's Utility Business column.