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January 19, 2019

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Gaming, tech and solar team up to promote policy changes

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.

In response to a bevy of controversial energy issues emerging in the state, a coalition of gaming, tech and energy companies will align to promote more consumer choice in what’s shaping up to be a long battle against the state’s dominant power company, NV Energy.

The Nevada Coalition to Protect Ratepayers includes Switch, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, SolarCity and Sunrun. The group’s formation follows weeks of debate about a disputed rooftop solar policy that reduces power bills for ratepayers and a 2001 law that allows large companies to generate and purchase power without the utility.

The crux of the coalition’s concerns reside in the Legislature and highlights myriad frustrations that energy-reform advocates have had this session. The companies, which include some of the state’s largest employers and emerging industries, have been pushing for policy changes they say will benefit homeowners and employers. But their efforts have come with little success, as well as opposition from NV Energy.

Switch, one of the nation’s largest data-storage companies, and the casinos are applying in the Public Utilities Commission to generate and purchase power without NV Energy. The companies expect that leaving the utility will be difficult and expensive. Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands began their public application process this week. Switch began its application in November, and this week the PUC’s regulatory staff issued a legal memo that said the company must pay $27 million if it wants to leave the utility. The exit fee is a way to ensure that ratepayers’ bills don’t increase because an industrial scale ratepayer leaves NV Energy.

Switch suggested paying $18 million. NV Energy wanted Switch to pay more than $30 million.

Switch says it wants to use the law in an effort to consume 100 percent renewable energy at its data storage centers while paying less for its power. But the PUC memo panned Switch’s interpretation of the law, NRS704b, as “tortured” because it passed at a time when energy prices were high and the utility wanted companies to build their own power plants as a way to provide energy to the grid and reduce its demand.

The law does not mandate that market conditions — currently much improved in Nevada — be a stipulation for applying to leave NV Energy. The opinion by the PUC’s regulatory legal staff could foreshadow the final ruling by the PUC’s three regulators in the coming weeks, potentially setting a precedent for what the casinos can expect as their application process continues.

The PUC’s three regulators will make a formal ruling on the Switch application in June.

“The efficient, cost-effective and ecologically sound use of power is no longer a choice. It should be a requirement,” said Rob Roy, founder and CEO of Switch. “… It is extremely important to Switch that we power the next evolution of the Internet with green energy.”

SolarCity and Sunrun have been fighting to increase a cap on a policy called net metering, which allows consumers to lease solar panels to provide energy to their homes and power grid. The two companies expected the Legislature to harbor debate and votes during the session, but that hasn’t been the case. At the start of the session there was a bill to lift the current 3 percent cap, but it never had a hearing. The solar companies have hosted rallies and invited their employees to come to the Legislature to lobby their representatives. With 18 days left in the session, time and options are running out. One of the remaining options is an amendment that would allow the PUC to lift the cap instead of the Legislature.

Rooftop solar companies say that if lawmakers don’t lift the cap, the industry in Nevada could lose its spot as the No. 1 solar job producer per capita and shed more than two-thirds of 6,000 rooftop solar jobs. More than 2,500 NV Energy customers participate in net metering. Solar companies expect the cap to be hit by fall. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid told the Sun that he supports a cap increase. Gov. Brian Sandoval is remaining neutral.

“This coalition is about promoting competition,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said . “Competition drives down prices, gives consumers more choices in how they get their electricity and has created jobs for Nevada.”

Net metering customers get a credit on their bill for providing energy on the grid. NV Energy considers that credit a subsidy paid for by nonsolar customers.

NV Energy declined to comment for this story.

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