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Nevada PUC: Yes To Casinos, No To Rooftop Solar Customers

<p>A SolarCity employee installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in Los Angeles in 2014.</p>
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A SolarCity employee installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in Los Angeles in 2014.

It was round two of the state’s defense of its move to change the rates rooftop solar customers.

And the outcome was little different than round one.

Heidi Kyser, writer for Nevada Public Radio’s “Desert Companion” magazine, said a meeting of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission Thursday attracted hundreds of people. Most of those were angry rooftop solar customers.

They are angry because late last year the PUC made a big decision to increase monthly fees for solar customers; they also reduced the amount of credit those customers get for producing electricity for NV Energy.

The Public Utilities Commission is handpicked by Governor Brian Sandoval. No one from the solar industry sits on the three-person board. Its members are Paul Thomsen, who previously worked in the geothermal industry and in the governor’s Office of Energy. He became board chairman in October 2015. The other two commissioners are attorneys Alaina Burtenshaw and David Noble.

Kyser said the PUC had the power to either postpone or change the new fees and credit ruling.

But it did neither in Wednesday's hearing; however, it is still considering a motion by the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Alliance for Solar Choices to reconsider the rates.

The commission will look at that motion in the months ahead, but the lawyers for both sides will probably do the arguing in that case. Wednesday's hearing may have been the last chance for rooftop solar customers to address the issue before the PUC.  

Kyser told KNPR's State of Nevada that the majority of people at the hearing were there to express frustration about the changes.

"They were arguing that the state enticed with them with things like rebates and incentives and they wouldn't have made the investment if those incentives and enticements hadn't persuaded them that this was going to be deal they would be operating under going forward," she said.

According to Kyser, solar customers also argued the changes should apply to customers who sign up after January 1. They also believe the rates are anti-solar and could hurt their investment.

But for her, the most compelling argument from customers was that the PUC used a report by NV Energy to come up with the rate changes.

"There were some members of the public that said, 'look you can't use the numbers NV Energy gives you and not have them questioned or vetted by an outside party.'" she said, "Of course, the PUC responds that's their job. That they serve the public and they vetted those numbers themselves."

Rooftop solar companies, SolarCity and Sunrun, have already said they’ve laid off hundreds of people employed to install leased solar systems in Nevada.

Sunrun has also sued to obtain the text messages of Governor Sandoval to NV Energy during the 2015 legislative session. The governor has said text messages are not public documents.

Meanwhile, the PUC will allow casinos in Las Vegas to get off the NV Energy grid, but for hefty fees. In turn, those companies – Las Vegas Sands Corp., MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts – will be able to search the wholesale energy market for their needs.

Heidi Kyser will have an in-depth story about the rooftop-solar rates in the February issue of "Desert Companion." 


Heidi Kyser, staff writer, Desert Companion

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.