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Studies Say Solar Pays Its Way

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Anne Cusack/LA Times via Getty Images

Two new studies dispute NV Energy’s and state utility regulators’ contention that rooftop solar customers are being subsidized by other electric customers.

The reports — one from the Brookings Institution and the other from SolarCity and the Natural Resources Defense Council — conclude instead that solar pays its way by reducing utilities’ needs to invest in expensive infrastructure.

In Nevada, the debate is more than an abstraction. Rooftop solar users got hit with higher costs and new installations ground to a halt after utility regulators late last year cut the credit for solar-generated electricity returned returned to the grid, a practice known as net metering.

A committee reporting to Gov. Brian Sandoval has recommended that existing solar customers be credited at a higher rate than regulators approved in the controversial net metering decision.

Utilities contend that solar users pay a disproportionately low share of costs for maintaining the electric system even though they rely on it when solar power is unavailable.

Support comes from

However, Devashree Saha, a clean energy expert for Brookings Institute, told KNPR's State of Nevada that is not the case.

“Increasingly it seems that the literature concludes that the economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and really impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers,” she said.

Jon Wellinghoff, the chief policy officer with SolarCity, agreed. He said the study it recently conducted with the Natural Resources Defense Council is actually a more complete analysis of the issue.

According to Wellinghoff, the last study on the issue only used two of the 11 benefits of net metering that can be quantified. He said the new study done with NRDC used 10 of the benefits, which shifted the cost-benefit analysis. 

“If you make a complete analysis, there is in fact a net benefit to every consumer in Nevada from putting solar on your neighbor’s roof,” he said.

Wellinghoff said SolarCity and the NRDC will introduce the findings to the Public Utilities Commission in a future meeting and he is confident the commission will read it.

Tim Hay is a former Nevada utility consumer advocate. He said the idea that solar customers benefit from a cost shift from non-solar customers is "fairly easily rebutted."

Hay doesn't like the term 'subsidizing' because the benefits of rooftop solar and net metering for the entire system are "quantifiable."

Hay believes Nevada and the whole country is at a "tipping point" when it comes solar power.

“The century-old regulatory structure of large centralized utility facilities feeding out to diverse geographical areas I think is changing rapidly,” he said.

Hay pointed to improvements in electric cars that could also provide energy storage and at-home power storage batteries as examples of how home energy is changing. 

(Editor's Note: A spokesperson for NV Energy declined a chance to participate in this discussion, saying the reports were still being digested.) 

Guests

Devashree Saha, clean energy expert, Brookings Institution; Jon Wellinghoff, chief policy officer, SolarCity; Tim Hay, former Nevada utility consumer advocate

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