Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 | 9 p.m.
NV Energy customers who applied for rooftop solar before 2016 — when the utility began charging a higher rate — would be allowed to keep their prior, more favorable billing rate under a deal submitted Monday for regulatory approval. The Public Utilities Commission, which has objected to similar deals in the past, could take up the proposal as early as Friday.
If the three-member panel changes course and approves the deal, it will solve one of the most controversial issues arising from the new charges it approved in December. In an unexpected move, it applied the new rates to all solar customers, including those who purchased rooftop solar panels months, sometimes several years, before the decision.
The deal submitted Monday, a settlement between SolarCity, NV Energy and the state's consumer advocate, would reverse that aspect of the decision, exempting customers who purchased panels before Dec. 31 from the new rate structure. According to terms of the deal, qualified customers would be grandfathered in under the old rate structure for 20 years.
"NV Energy’s intent with its grandfathering proposal was to offer a solution for customers who installed or had valid applications to install rooftop solar systems by Dec. 31, 2015, in the most efficient and timely manner," a utility spokesperson said in a statement. "We appreciate all parties coming together to expedite the process on behalf of our customers.”
Although nearly all parties have agreed that pre-2016 customers should be allowed to keep their old rates, the PUC has been hesitant to acquiesce. After a hearing on the issue earlier this year, it dismissed a similar proposal. Instead it decided to lessen the shock of the new rates by introducing them in gradual steps over 12 years. Since then, several parties have put pressure on the commission to again reconsider its stance, most recently with Gov. Brian Sandoval's energy task force recommending a nearly identical grandfathering proposal.
"I asked the major companies involved in the issue of net metering to work together and reach a resolution that benefits Nevada ratepayers and solar customers and ensures Nevada maintains its status as the national leader in clean and renewable energy," Sandoval said in a statement. "I am pleased with the result and believe it is in the best interests of all Nevadans. I am hopeful that the PUC will act quickly on this agreement. It is time to move on."
Regardless of whether the PUC accepts the deal, debate over the new rates is far from over.
Solar advocates are likely to continue a legal challenge of the new rates, which triple a fixed fee and reduce the value of credits customers earn for sending excess energy to the grid. If successful, the effort could impact all rooftop solar customers. The new rates, according to solar advocates, make rooftop solar unaffordable, which prompted several large companies, including SolarCity, to stop selling solar panels in Nevada after the new rates went into effect.
NV Energy and the PUC argue that the new rates, which result in increased bills for most rooftop solar customers, are necessary to prevent shifting costs to nonsolar ratepayers. They argue that the new rates more accurately reflect the cost of serving rooftop solar customers.