Nevada advocate tries to delay controversial order on solar energy


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

The Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection filed a motion today to stay a regulatory order approved this week that reduces the value of credits NV Energy pays to solar customers who generate excess electricity.

A delay in the revised rate structure, which takes effect Jan. 1, would give NV Energy’s regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, time to respond to requests asking the panel to reconsider and clarify its decision.

After the three-member commission voted to pare back the value of so-called net metering credits on Tuesday, a chorus of solar advocates criticized the decision, saying it would cripple the industry. One of the country’s top rooftop solar providers, SolarCity, said it was halting sales and installations in Nevada.

The motion requests that the decision be delayed until the commission can hear petitions for reconsideration, clarification or a rehearing of the net metering rates. Petitions asking the commission to take such action are due within 10 business days, a deadline that closes after the rates are scheduled to be implemented Jan. 1.

“This just buys time,” said Eric Witkoski, the state’s consumer advocate.

He said the commissioner overseeing the case likely would have authority to rule on the motion.

According to the filing, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which Witkoski represents, believes that a delay is justified to offer parties more time to review the 113-page order, to give consumers an opportunity to assess the rates, and to help clarify issues in private contracts for early adopters who signed up under different rates.

Solar companies estimate the change in net metering rates will cut the credit from about 11 cents a kilowatt hour to about 3 cents. No exact numbers have been determined because NV Energy is still in the process of calculating the rates. The revised rates would eventually apply to existing customers, even early adopters.

The filing notes that NV Energy did not request changing the rates for the affected customers.

It states that early adopters “understandably feel a bit confused, frustrated and aggrieved to find out their rates related to net metering will change Jan. 1.”

A justification for the rate change, according to a media release from the PUC, was that solar customers shift costs to nonsolar ratepayers by avoiding payments for some of NV Energy’s fixed costs. The costs include the utility’s investment in infrastructure. The annual shift in costs to other ratepayers, the PUC calculates, amounts to a subsidy of about $623 for each residential net-metering customer in Southern Nevada.

The filing cautions the commission to keep the subsidy in perspective, noting that ratepayers support much larger subsidies for energy efficiency programs. According to Witkoski’s filing, the commission’s order did not consider how the solar industry might make a $900 million investment in a natural gas facility unnecessary.

“Such recognition of the value of rooftop solar could diminish any claimed subsidy substantially and provide for the economic benefits of the jobs and industry associated with the growth of the solar industry,” Witkoski writes.

NV Energy has 17,255 net metering customers, most of them in Southern Nevada.

Representatives from NV Energy and the PUC were not immediately available for comment.