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Governor Brian Sandoval signed a bill Thursday that essentially revives the rooftop solar industry in Nevada. It's part of Sandoval's bill-signing tour in Las Vegas, and one of several to do with clean energy.
Assembly Bill 405 restores provisions that make it worthwhile for homeowners to invest in rooftop solar.
It’s been a long battle for solar energy companies, who were essentially cut out of the state after a 2016 Public Utilities Commission decision to end net metering - that's the program which gives solar owners credit for excess energy they use.
The bill contains two major components - one to restore net metering as well as a consumer bill of rights. Net metering, however, won't be what it once was.
“What this bill does is… [it] puts into statute the method for re-imbursement the amount of reimbursement and the term for the interconnection and the agreement,” Chris Brooks, the Democratic Assemblyman from District 10 who sponsored the bill, told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Brooks explained that under the new law people who install rooftop solar will know not only the amount NV Energy will pay them for excess power but how long that payment plan will be in place.
That was one of the complaints with the PUC's decision. People bought or leased solar panels thinking the net metering rates would be the same but then it disappeared. Brooks said that has changed.
“So, you have some certainty around what the value of your investment is going to be," he said, "That is the most important piece.”
Besides the pricing, rooftop solar companies will now have to clearly explain what people are signing up for when they sign a contract. The consumer bill of rights will keep some of the bad actors in the industry out. Brooks said the contracts for buying and leasing solar panels and then selling back the excess power to the power company are complicated, but now people will better understand what they're signing.
As for NV Energy, it has long argued that continuing a program of net metering costs the non-solar power customers money, because now a smaller group of people are paying for equipment and grid maintenance that all customers still use.
“That is the point they were trying to make," Brooks said, "They were in my opinion unsuccessful in proving that there was any sort of significant cost shift between solar customers and non-solar customers through several rate cases and in the Legislature.”
He said the new rate schedule for net metering is a "compromise" between the solar industry and NV Energy. Solar supporters say the value of excess power is above the retail rate and the power company says it is below. The new rate is set at 95 percent of the retail rate and that will decrease as more people sign up for rooftop solar until it hits a floor of 75 percent of the retail rate.
Chris Brooks, Assemblyman, District 10