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September 26, 2016

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Consumer watchdog raises questions about rooftop solar rehearing

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Steve Marcus

Debbie Dooley of Altanta, Georgia, founder of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, rallies solar supporters in front of Public Utilities Commission offices Wednesday, Jan 13, 2016.

Earlier this week, state utility regulators indicated they would meet Monday to decide whether to hear more testimony about exempting some existing rooftop solar customers from paying newly increased electricity rates.

But with the meeting looming, the Public Utilities Commission faces an obstacle.

The Bureau of Consumer Protection, which represents ratepayers and asked for the rehearing, is withdrawing its request, saying another hearing would be inappropriate and skirt significant issues the commission needs to address in reconsidering the rates.

Several parties, including the bureau and solar advocates, have petitions before the commission asking it to revisit solar rates that raise a fixed fee and lower the value of credits solar customers earn by generating excess energy under a program known as net metering.

Answers to those petitions are due Monday.

NV Energy, the commission staff and other parties to the solar rate case have not yet filed answers to requests for reconsideration.

The bureau believes the commission should focus on the reconsiderations.

“BCP strongly encourages the commission to not proceed with the interim rehearing, but instead focus its efforts on the pending petitions for reconsideration and answers thereto,” the state’s consumer advocate, Eric Witkoski, who heads the bureau, wrote in a filing today.

A rehearing while there are pending reconsiderations could also present problems, Witkoski argues in a filing, in part because it would introduce new evidence into the case’s record.

In an email to the Sun, Witkoski called the rehearing a “procedural diversion.”

“The proposed rehearing is a procedural diversion and does not address the reconsideration process and frankly doesn’t address the issues the commission needs to consider on reconsideration,” Witkoski said. “Attempting to have a rehearing in the interim, while reconsiderations are pending is procedurally inappropriate.”

In addition to grandfathering, some requests for reconsideration ask the commission to revisit several aspects of its decision to increase bills, including the calculations behind the decision.

Witkoski has also raised concerns about the timeline for a rehearing.

The commission’s draft order recommending a rehearing proposes a hearing on Feb. 8. Prior to that, parties would be required to provide the information with testimony answering a number of questions.

In a commission filing, the bureau argued that doing so “would require substantial discovery, potential interviews and gathering of information not possible in the current time-frame.”

Moreover, Witkoski believes there is enough information on the record, without additional testimony, to support adding a grandfather clause so early adopters of rooftop solar can keep their old rates.

It is unclear whether the commission will still authorize the rehearing, given the bureau’s recent filing.

A spokesperson for the commission said regulators could not comment on the filing but that the draft order remains on Monday’s agenda and will likely be discussed.

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