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August 17, 2017

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Return of net metering expected to boost rooftop solar industry in Nevada

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TIFFANY BROWN / LAS VEGAS SUN FILE

Electricians Frank Cudia, left, and Tina Long install solar panels on a home in Las Vegas.

Gov. Brian Sandoval is expected to sign a bill next week that sets new rates for the excess solar power customers return to utility companies, a decision that’s spurring industry optimism and the return of at least two rooftop solar installers to the state.

Assembly Bill 405 seeks to revive a program known as net metering, a payment structure that was essentially gutted by a decision that state utility regulators made under the direction of the 2015 Legislature. Rooftop solar installers Vivint Solar and Sunrun pulled out of the state after the net-metering change, and are now planning to return.

Sandoval’s spokeswoman says the bill will be signed, likely in Las Vegas next week.

Alexander McDonough, vice president of public policy for Sunrun, said the company had hundreds of employees in Nevada and a warehouse in Las Vegas before the net metering decision led Sunrun to leave the state. Nationwide, the company has 3,000 workers.

McDonough said the company will once again operate in Las Vegas, though It’s still too early to know when facilities will be up and running or how many employees will be hired.

“We’re excited about the opportunity and grateful for all the support from the governor and the legislators who supported getting this done,” McDonough said. “It means that customers are going to have access to residential solar and the ability to be credited on their bill for the solar energy they generate and have certainty that they’ll be able to continue using their systems reliably for a long period of time.”

The measure also carries some consumer protection provisions, creating the Renewable Energy Bill of Rights. McDonough said these across-the-board standards set the bar for providing disclosures and transparency to customers.

“Those are strong standards for disclosure to ensure that customers understand the product, and everybody will have to comply with that and that’s a good thing,” he said.

There’s a 45-day period that NV Energy will have to file the tariff with the Public Utilities Commission to implement the rates, while customers become eligible for those rates immediately upon enactment.

“There will be some lag time on the PUC to approve the rates formally,” he said.

Under the bill, rates paid to solar customers would go down slightly as the number of rooftop solar customer increases.

“This is a political compromise to do this step-down rate structure and it allowed the legislation to get support from a broader number of legislators,” he said, noting that once this sweet spot was reached, support for the bill was practically unanimous. “This is a sustainable model, and it is designed to avoid the cliff scenarios that we’ve seen in the past.”

Previous fixed net-metering caps meant that reaching those limits created “anxiety in the market,” McDonough said.

The new system means it’s less likely that the industry will “hit a cliff and cease to exist anymore” in the absence of legislative action, he said.

“This way there is kind of a long-term pathway that’s a step-down approach,” McDonough said.

Vivint Solar, a residential solar provider, will operate in 18 states once it returns to Nevada. The company anticipates adding 60 jobs initially and about 100 workers once operations are fully resumed.

"We are very pleased Nevada officials have recognized the broad public support of rooftop solar and reestablished the state's commitment to the future of renewable energy," said David Bywater, CEO of Vivint Solar, in a news release on Thursday. "This bill demonstrates the power of building consensus across stakeholders to find a win-win-win solution for the residential solar industry, utilities and Nevada consumers. We look forward to bringing jobs, consumer choice and affordable solar power back to the state of Nevada."

The net-metering legislation was sponsored by Assemblyman Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, who was also behind a bill to boost the use of renewable energy.

“Our goal this session has been to shift Nevada away from a boom and bust cycle economy and toward a more prosperous future,” Brooks said in a statement after Assembly Bill 206 passed.

The bill sets the state’s goal to have renewable sources making up 40 percent of the energy sold to customers by 2030. Sandoval is still undecided on this measure, with spokeswoman Mari St. Martin saying the governor has concerns about raising the renewable portfolio standard before a 2015 initiative that has yet to be implemented.

“Nevada families are the governor’s ultimate priority, and he’s not sure this legislation strikes the balance between keeping energy costs low and the state’s pursuit for a clean energy future,” she said in a statement Thursday.

Apple, Tesla and other stakeholders had input, Brooks noted after the bill passed both houses.

“With this bill, Nevada will be the nation's leader in the next generation of clean and renewable energy sources that will diversify our economy and create good-paying, high-quality jobs — the kind of jobs that can't be exported overseas,” he said. “By achieving 40 percent use of clean, renewable energy by 2030, we can guarantee prosperity for years to come and make sure Nevada’s future is bright.”

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