A Compromise and a Petition, But Future Of Solar Energy Still Uncertain

Published: Jan. 25, 2016 at 6:46 PM PST
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Recent years have produced a boom in solar energy in Nevada, adding 55 thousand jobs by one estimate while burnishing the state's reputation as a leader in the development of alternative energy sources.

All that seemed to be at risk, as NV Energy proposed a new rate scale, paying less to rooftop solar customers for the energy they sent back into the grid, charging them more for the power they receive from the utility..

The proposal brought protests from those customers who invested in solar with the promise they'd eventually save money while doing something to help the environment.,

Many of them showed up to testify before the Public Utilities Commission January 25, 2016. But the Public Utilities Commission voted in favor of the utility's application.

Bad news for customers invested in solar panels, perhaps fatal news for the companies selling them.

"While not coming out and saying you can't put in solar, they've made it fiscally irresponsible to put in solar," says Shawn O'Shea of SUNWorks.

Now there's the hope of relief for those customers who cried foul.

NV Energy has proposed a moratorium of up to 20 years on the new rates for those who already have solar installations.

But that still leaves the industry itself shutting down and threatening to leave the state.

"The company I work for has not installed a system since the release of the new rate schedule," says Travis Miller, who sits on the board of the Great Basin Solar Coalition, " nor do we anticipate being able to proceed with any of the contracts we have in queue."

"It's definitely not an exaggeration to say it's killed the industry. There is no solar industry left," says Kevin Benson, representing the No Solar Tax Political Action Committee.

So that coalition has filed a referendum petition with the Secretary of State. The aim is to repeal the section of law that led to the PUC's decision, in effect the decision itself.

"We're the sunniest state. We should have a robust solar industry," says Benson.

The P-U-C will hold a hearing on the proposal to hold off on the 20-year moratorium for existing customers February 8. It's a compromise of sorts, which may take some of the wind out of the sails of the petition effort, clearly a step backward for the promotion of alternative energy in Nevada, but one which is showing up elsewhere.

Vermont recently put a hold on approving new solar projects because the number in the state had reached a cap beyond which, it's felt, regular customers are unfairly subsidizing their solar powered neighbors.