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April 19, 2019

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Why a solar company left Nevada

Vivint Solar

COURTESY

In this file photo, Vivint Solar employees install solar panels on a home.

Chance Allred

Chance Allred

In July, the Utah-based rooftop solar company Vivint said it was moving to Nevada — promising new jobs and economic development in the valley. A month later, the company said it was backing out of the state. The reason: A shakeup in the policy known as net metering, which gives rooftop solar customers a credit for providing the grid with solar energy.

The regulatory climate around the policy has been a roller-coaster ride for rooftop solar companies operating in the state.

After months of warning, the solar cap that limits participation in net metering maxed out. As a result, the Public Utilities Commission came up with a temporary solution to keep the industry alive while it vets price structures for solar customers. NV Energy wants new fees, a reduction in the credit’s value and a first-of-its-kind demand charge on solar customers in return for permanently removing the cap.

The uncertainty surrounding the policy has driven rallies and a regulatory battle unseen inside the state’s Public Utilities Commission while regulators work to find a long-term solution. It also drove Vivint out of the market.

The Sunday spoke with Chance Allred, Vivint senior vice president of sales, to talk about the company’s decision to stay out of Nevada.

How much investment did you make in Nevada?

I don’t have the total dollar amount. But it is a big number.

We got a warehouse and moved in the inventory. We hired 40 employees and paid them to move here. We were looking to ramp up there and were excited.

If you look at the state’s environment for clean, renewable energy, it is one of the best in the country. We were excited but then surprised to hear about the cap. We had to pay to have those employees relocate.

Would you come back to Nevada if NV Energy’s current proposal wins approval in the PUC?

I do not see us coming back to the state with that. It is one of the worst in the country. I don’t think we’ve seen one worse than that. That proposal is an abuse of the regulatory system.

Around .75 percent of NV Energy customers participate in net metering, giving the industry a lot of room to grow. What do you think the state’s threshold is for rooftop solar?

I don’t see any reason to have a threshold. Consumers should have a choice. They are getting credits and creating energy locally.

This is a business model that challenges utility companies while using the utility’s infrastructure to its benefit. Did utilities ignore it until it was too late?

Look at the current utilities and they are a monopoly.

Our stance is consumer choice and energy independence. Consumers can now get electricity for cheaper than dirty power that’s been used for 130-plus years. The sun can produce enough energy in a day to meet the world’s demand for a year. The tech is now cheap in places like Nevada, where that could be a reality.

Many rooftop solar companies compete on the New York Stock exchange. But now they teamed up and formed coalitions to fight utilities across the country. It is rare to see that type of pact for so long. What is the significance of this?

Between the big rooftop solar companies, we only represent half of the market. The rest are small, kind of locally owned companies.

But this is a customer’s choice issue rather than the companies. The citizens of the communities of the state are being prohibited from choice. They are being prohibited from clean technology.

Nevada would have been the 13th state in which you operate. Have you ever seen a battle over solar like the one currently playing out in Nevada?

I would say it is similar to Arizona.

Does anything else compare?

No.

From what you’ve studied and heard about NV Energy, how do you compare it to other utilities in terms of the way they play ball?

From the states were in, so far they are the worst. There are others around the country that haven’t taken the draconian approach.

Why did Warren Buffett buy NV Energy in December 2013?

Likely because it is a highly regulated monopoly.

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