John Locher / AP
Wednesday, July 8, 2015 | 6:45 p.m.
Less than two months after solar companies and NV Energy reached a compromise on a controversial energy policy, the two groups are rehashing their battle.
The Alliance for Solar Choice filed a petition with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada on Wednesday, saying that it will soon hit a controversial cap that limits participation in a program called net metering. The alliance says it will hit the cap in six weeks because NV Energy, the state’s largest power provider that monitors the use of rooftop solar, gave lawmakers and solar officials inaccurate information during the legislative session.
The alliance, which is a group of solar companies that includes SolarCity and Sunrun, filed the petition to question the veracity of the utility and ask the PUC to rule on the matter.
The utility has yet to file a formal response as to how it would react if the cap is met but told the Sun that it is working to accommodate new rooftop solar customers after the limit is reached.
On multiple occasions, NV Energy assured the media and lawmakers that the cap would not be met this summer.
In a packet the company provided to lawmakers in May, the utility said the solar industry would not hit the cap until March 2016. Lawmakers boosted the limit from 225 megawatts to 235 megawatts. In testimony, the solar industry said it was comfortable with the hike because it was confident that the cap would not be hit.
Last week, NV Energy officials told solar companies that the cap would be reached in the coming weeks.
The petition continues the conversation about consumer choice in NV Energy’s regulated electricity monopoly. The utility spent the legislative session trying to prevent an increase in the cap, saying net metering offers a subsidy that only benefits customers with rooftop solar. The policy allows NV Energy customers to use solar panels for powering their homes and providing energy to the grid. The program provides a 6-cent credit per kilowatt hour for solar energy they provide to the grid. NV Energy says that each additional megawatt could cost nonsolar customers around $8 million.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which owns NV Energy, has panned net metering as a policy that cuts into its revenues and has waged a battle against the policy in states like Utah, Washington and Arizona.
“We will continue our efforts to develop just and reasonable charges for net metering that avoid, reduce or eliminate an unreasonable shifting of costs to customers who do not install rooftop solar,” Jennifer Schuricht, a NV Energy spokeswoman, said.
The utility, according to the petition, told solar companies that it had miscalculated how many participants were generating energy with rooftop solar, saying that it found an additional 17.5 megawatts worth of NV Energy customers participating in the program.
“No explanation has been provided as to the reason that the 17.5 MW was overlooked or how the discovery was made that the 17.5 MW was not included in the calculations that were provided in several public statements to Nevada’s legislators,” TASC attorneys wrote in the petition. “As a result of this discovery, NV Energy now recognizes that the cap could be hit in as few as six and a half weeks.”
The solar alliance says the Legislature’s compromise was supposed to provide stability in a market that supports 6,000 jobs — the No. 1 ranking per capita in the nation.
“It is imperative that in order to meet the very specific expectations of the Nevada legislators … that the commission clarify that [net metering] will be offered without interruption,” TASC attorneys wrote in the petition.
The Legislature’s compromise gave the solar industry a bump in the cap while mandating the PUC to study adding a fee for net metering customers and asking regulators to look at a new participation policy to replace the cap.
The solar industry spent the session lobbying that customer demand would hit the cap by the end of summer. Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior U.S. senator, said the same thing in a letter he wrote to Gov. Brian Sandoval when a solar compromise was still in the works.
Schuricht said the utility’s analysis during the session came from historical data and input from solar companies.