TIFFANY BROWN / LAS VEGAS SUN FILE
Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | 2 a.m.
A bill restoring net metering in Nevada was heard at the Legislature Monday, with many supporters saying solar power creates jobs and benefits the environment.
Assemblyman Justin Watkins, D-Las Vegas, introduced Assembly Bill 270 this session after state utility regulators decided in 2015 that solar customers would be paid less for the excess power they put into the grid.
“I understand that this is a heavy lift, but I think the policy here is one of the most important policy decisions we’ll be making in this session,” Watkins said. “It impacts our economy, it impacts our environment, it puts people to work immediately, and I will spend as much time as is necessary to meet with everybody, all stakeholders on all sides, to ensure that we get it right.”
Net metering gives residents with solar panels lower monthly bills, which some say keeps them from paying into maintaining the power grid and shifts those costs to customers who cannot afford to install photovoltaic systems. Proponents of the billing system say rooftop solar customers allow utility companies to move away from unsustainable options such as coal.
The changes in net metering in Nevada prompted a downturn in the state’s solar industry. Several speakers at the Monday hearing said businesses closed and employees were laid off due to the change.
The bill is being amended. Watkins said the measure immediately institutes retail rates for net metering and rooftop solar.
It also seeks to set up a long-term solution for the billing mechanism by asking utility regulators to once again evaluate the value of solar without considering rates below a base amount of 9 cents per kilowatt hour. Watkins called this a “safety net to the consumer.”
The bill also asks that the environmental benefit of rooftop solar be evaluated and calculated in at no less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour.
Watkins said 9 cents is a fair starting point to negotiate.
Another amendment was proposed by Tesla, dealing with possible variable rate schedules for energy storage in densely populated areas. NV Energy also plans to propose an amendment dealing with a competitive bidding process for privately generated energy in areas of need.
“This bill allows a customer to choose to install private generation anytime, and at any location outside of this bidding process,” said Judy Stokey of NV Energy.
The utility would pay market-based prices to those customers.
“We would designate areas that we know it would benefit the system, that we could go out for bid to enter into some kind of contracts with the solar industry to build in those areas, but at any point in time if a customer wants to build, say, in their neighborhood where we have not identified a need, they can always do that,” she said.
No one spoke in opposition. Members of the solar industry and residents with rooftop solar spoke in support.