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June 16, 2019

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Environmental group says regulators stalling on public records request

As the Public Utilities Commission weighs rooftop solar policies in Nevada, a clean energy watchdog group said the PUC was withholding documents that could shine light on the relationship between the state’s largest power company and a utility commissioner.

Checks and Balances Project, a nonprofit that investigates corporate influence on clean energy policy, filed a records request in August asking for more than three years of emails, phone calls, texts and calendar meetings between PUC commissioner David Noble, NV Energy and the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group that represents utilities. The PUC gave the group 104 emails and one phone log between Noble, the Edison Electric Institute and NV Energy during a 42-month period. Noble uses a personal cellphone and the PUC, which regulates NV Energy, said it was not required to disclose his communications from the phone.

“Their response does not seem credible on its face,” said Scott Peterson, Checks and Balances executive director. “We are perplexed that after three months of foot dragging, this is all we’ve gotten.”

The PUC said it disclosed 2,000 documents to Checks and Balances and provided all public records pertaining to Noble. The majority of the documents were related to utility conferences from the Edison Electric Institute and others.

“The remaining records sought by Checks and Balances Project are not 'public records,’" PUC spokesman Peter Kostes said.

The inquiry by Checks and Balances highlights the current friction between utility and rooftop solar companies nationwide. The dispute comes as Noble and the PUC devise a new cost structure for net metering, a policy that allows rooftop solar customers to be paid for energy they provide to the grid. NV Energy says the current net metering policy subsidizes rooftop solar customers at the expense of nonsolar customers. The utility proposed a new framework to add new fees and reduce the credit solar customers receive for the energy they provide to the grid.

The PUC will decide on rooftop solar by Jan. 1.

Checks and Balances has entered into other states during similar rooftop solar battles. It is involved in an Arizona lawsuit demanding records from the cell phone of a state utility commissioner. An Arizona power company, Salt River Project, added a new cost for rooftop customers last year, leading another utility in the state to try and make a similar move.

Checks and Balances says it may take legal action to obtain all of Noble’s records in Nevada to address an issue that has been in courts nationwide. California and Washington have explored whether public business conducted on private devices is subject to a record request. The Washington Supreme Court said communications from private cellphones were subject to public information laws. The California Supreme Court has a case that will address whether private emails are public records.

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