Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2019

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Solar industry growing too fast for power company, state law to keep up

Solar Panels

John Harrington / Sunrun / AP

Real estate experts Drew Scott, left, and Jonathan Scott, center, stars of the HGTV show “Property Brothers” and solar enthusiasts, help install Sunrun solar panels Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, on their “smart home” in Las Vegas.

The battle between residential rooftop solar companies and NV Energy has pervaded the Las Vegas Valley this summer.

Like a family bickering over whether the temperature is too hot or too cold, NV Energy and the solar companies have been arguing about Public Utilities Commission policies neither thinks are right.

The rooftop solar market exploded in Nevada last year, growing by more than 1,000 percent to 6,000 jobs. About 3,000 Nevadans have installed solar panels to power their homes and receive credits on their energy bills for sending power back to the electric grid.

The utility argues the credits are a subsidy that costs the company — and ratepayers — millions of dollars each year. Every new megawatt of solar energy costs NV Energy more than $8 million, company officials said — and 20 megawatts come online each month.

Over the past decade, the state limited how many customers could receive the solar credit and set a cap on residential solar installation. The solar industry, led by rooftop leasing companies SolarCity and Sunrun, spent the recent legislative session battling NV Energy over an increase on the cap.

After months of behind-closed-door meetings and intense lobbying, both sides reached a compromise. The solar industry received a temporary bump on the cap and assurances it one day would be lifted. NV Energy was promised it could add a new fee to solar bills to recover lost revenue. Lawmakers also ordered the Public Utilities Commission to handle the solar issue going forward, asking regulators to issue new regulations in December.

During the legislative session, NV Energy told lawmakers consumers wouldn’t hit the cap until March 2016. But the power company’s projections turned out to underestimate drastically the growth of solar.

In July, NV Energy announced the cap would be hit by the end of August — seven months ahead of schedule. If that happens before the Public Utilities Commission approves NV Energy’s new fee, it remains unclear whether the residential solar industry will stall and whether customers who acquire solar panels after the cap was hit but before the new rules were enacted would pay the new fee.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” commission Chairwoman Alaina Burtenshaw said.

A solar trade group filed a petition asking the commission to clarify. It’s scheduled for review Aug. 12, but a final decision could take months.

August is the most expensive month for power customers. And with the solar debate raging on, temperatures aren’t all that’s heating up the valley.

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