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February 18, 2018

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PUC still can undo damage it has inflicted on solar industry

Las Vegas gets, on average, 292 days of sunshine a year. Given that, you’d think the Nevada Public Utilities Commission would do all it could to encourage the adoption of rooftop solar to boost economic growth, save ratepayer dollars, spur job growth and reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Instead, the PUC approved troubling new rules that have devastated the rooftop solar industry and significantly increased costs for those who have installed solar panels.

At TechNet — the national, bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives — we are deeply concerned that the Nevada Public Utilities Commission is throwing cold water on the Silver State’s potential in tapping solar energy.

This is a serious mistake that harms Nevada’s reputation and economy, and slows the transition to solar and other renewables, which we all know must happen as quickly as possible. The PUC should reverse its misguided order as soon as possible.

Here are the details. Just days before Christmas, the PUC approved rule changes that allow the state’s largest utility — NV Energy — to impose a steep monthly fee on Nevadans using rooftop solar power and to cut by more than 75 percent the value of the credit Nevadans used to receive for contributing solar power to the grid. The utility is imposing the new rates and fees on all existing customers, and increasing the rates each year between now and 2020, under the guise of gradualism.

Less publicized, the PUC in December also eliminated successful energy-efficiency programs that reduce energy use associated with swimming pool pumps, refrigerator recycling and efficient residential lighting. At a time when most states are creating energy-efficiency incentives, Nevada is eliminating them. This is simply baffling.

Nevada’s previous rooftop solar rules helped make the state a renewable-energy leader. The rooftop solar industry, for instance, created thousands of jobs and helped jump-start the state’s economic recovery. But with this new order, the PUC is forcing companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun and dozens of local installers to stop solar installations and lay off hundreds of workers.

Ultimately, the PUC’s actions are expected to slow Nevada’s economic recovery and cost the state as many as 5,000 good jobs. Nevada’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is asking the regulators to reconsider the decision. We couldn’t agree more.

Nevadans are outraged over these new rules. In January, a group of citizens formed a “Bring Back Solar” alliance and announced plans to put a measure on the ballot to restore the previous rules for rooftop solar users.

So far, NV Energy has responded by proposing a policy that allows current rooftop solar users to revert to the old rates for a “transition period” of up to 20 years. While that’s a step in the right direction, it prompts a question: If the old rates make sense for existing solar customers, why don’t they make sense for everyone?

It’s hard to understand why the PUC is turning a cold shoulder to rooftop solar. The new rules also prevent the state from taking advantage of innovative technologies such as energy storage, smart inverters, load shifting and demand response that can complement solar and help the utility avoid expensive capital investments. It doesn’t make sense.

Nevadans deserve clean energy, access to good jobs and a government that lives up to its commitments. We strongly urge the Public Utilities Commission members to renew Nevada’s commitment to clean energy and reverse these misguided new rules.

Andrea Deveau is the Southwest Regional executive director of TechNet, the national, bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives.

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