Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2018

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Sandoval, NV Energy mum on net metering after meetings with solar officials

Solar industry: Thousands of jobs still in jeopardy

After a series of high-end meetings with Gov. Brian Sandoval and NV Energy officials, the state's rooftop solar industry says it is still in danger of shutdown by the end of the year.

The meetings follow news reports that detail an ongoing attempt by the solar industry to expand the number of Nevadans who use rooftop panels to create energy for their homes and the grid. Solar advocates say NV Energy wants to thwart their efforts as a way to keep its hold on the retail electric marketplace that's commonly criticized as a regulated monopoly.

Despite intense lobbying efforts and calls by the Public Utilities Commission for legislative debate, there are no bills and few efforts that would hike a cap that limits the number of net metering customers and protects what solar advocates hail as an industry that supports 6,000 jobs in the state.

The meetings were the latest step for the solar industry to try and salvage something during the legislative session, but both government and solar officials are trying to avoid a high-profile dispute, with both sides calling it a sensitive issue.

A CEO from rooftop solar company SolarCity, which has 1,000 employees, a warehouse and two offices in Las Vegas, met with Sandoval Thursday to plead the case for the company.

SolarCity declined to comment for this story.

A spokesman for the governor said the meetings were "informative" and that Sandoval would continue to listen to the debate.

Robert Uithoven, a lobbyist for The Alliance for Solar Choice, sat in on the Wednesday meetings, saying both sides agreed that the PUC will eventually have to regulate net metering. He didn't reveal much else about the conversation, emphasizing that the industry has to protect consumer choice and solar jobs.

On Wednesday, lobbyists from SolarCity and other solar companies and advocacy groups met with Pete Ernaut, a lobbyist from NV Energy, to try and hash a deal.

The meetings produced nothing definite for solar, leaving the industry to continue its efforts for legislation.

"NV Energy's offer was exactly zero," Bryan Miller, vice president of public policy at Sunrun, a company with 1,000 employees in Nevada, said. "They're not willing to negotiate in good faith."

Ernaut declined to comment for the story.

Nevada is one of many states in the midst of a battle where the solar industry is trying to tap into a market long controlled by utility companies. The solar industry says NV Energy is coordinating the impasse.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, a utility conglomerate operating in more than eight states, owns NV Energy and has battled in utility commissions, court rooms and legislatures throughout the country in an attempt to limit rooftop solar.

Nationally, its efforts have failed in Utah, Washington and Iowa. If no compromise arrives in Carson City by the end of the legislative session, it would be one of the utility conglomerates biggest national victories.

Las Vegas, known for its 350-plus days of sunshine, has fast become a solar capital nationwide and boasts the most solar jobs per capita. But the solar industry says that could soon change if Sandoval or lawmakers don't intervene to increase a cap on a policy known as net metering.

Net metering allows consumers to strap solar panels on their roof, provide energy to the grid, power their homes and receive credits on their power bills.

That credit is the subject of intense debate. Utilities say it is an unfair burden on ratepayers who don't use solar. Nonsolar customers pay 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Customers who participate in net metering pay 5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Solar contends that the difference in rate is not a burden because net metering reduces the demand on NV Energy's capacity and diminishes the wear and tear on their power plants and transmission lines.

Currently, only 3 percent of NV Energy customers can participate in net metering. Solar companies want more and say their industry will add to its existing 6,000 jobs and create carbon-free energy.

The 3 percent represents a portion of all utility customers consuming energy during the highest level of demand on the electric grid in a given year, which is around 7,500 megawatts.

Around 2,000 NV Energy customers currently participate. The Legislature last lifted the cap in the 2013 session by 1.5 percent.

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