CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — NV Energy will propose allowing customers who already have solar panels or applied for them before the new year to keep more favorable rates for up to two decades, the company said in a statement as blowback over a recent rate hike continues.
The company announced its plan Monday, just after regulators at the Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted to further discuss the possibility of "grandfathering" existing customers into lower rates. NV Energy plans to submit its proposal Feb. 1, before a hearing that regulators scheduled for Feb. 8.
"A fair, stable and predictable cost environment is important to all of our customers," said NV Energy CEO Paul Caudill, acknowledging that it was a difficult task to come up with solutions in the solar rate debate. "Our proposal seeks a balance for those who selected solar prior to the implementation of the new rules ordered by the (Public Utilities Commission) and those without solar."
Under the plan, which would need commissioner approval, the more favorable rates would apply to more than 17,000 net metering customers who sell excess energy from their solar panels back to the utility. The lower rates would also cover customers who applied to start net metering before the commission ordered the rate change; more than 14,000 customers fall into that category.
The announcement came the same day that solar companies intensified the fight and filed a petition in hopes of taking the solar rate matter to the statewide ballot. Their proposal, which would need more than 55,000 signatures to go up for a vote, would go much further than NV Energy's plan and allow both existing customers and an unlimited number of future customers to take advantage of old, more favorable rates.
"We're grateful that NV Energy has recognized the importance of protecting the investments 17,000 Nevadans have already made in solar," said Lyndon Rive, CEO of rooftop solar company SolarCity, which backs the petition. "However, it's vital that the state fix the rules to allow all Nevadans to choose clean energy in the future."
Rive also called on state lawmakers to convene a special session to address the matter — a long shot considering two-thirds of legislators would have to agree to call themselves into session, and all but one lawmaker voted in favor of the bill the referendum seeks to gut.
Debate over solar rates gained steam last spring, as Nevada approached a statutory cap on the amount of rooftop solar panel users who could participate in net metering.
Nevada lawmakers ultimately passed a compromise bill that directed regulators to set new rates for customers that avoid any unreasonable cost-shifting.
Regulators approved new rates effective Jan. 1 that raise base charges for solar customers and reduce reimbursements for their excess power over the course of four years.
Commissioners said the rates will phase out subsidies that traditional customers pay to support solar customers, spread out the burden of maintaining electrical infrastructure and would better reflect the declining cost of solar energy. Rooftop solar companies, which sell or lease panels on the premise that customers will save enough on their energy bills to easily make payments on the panels, say the changes make their business model unworkable.
"The Public Utilities Commission's rules have been taxing on the rooftop solar industry and have already cost the state nearly 1,000 jobs in less than a month, with more job losses likely on the way," said former Nevada Gov. Robert List, a lobbyist for rooftop solar company SolarCity. "The rules fail the public the commission purports to represent, and are simply not reasonable, balanced policy."
Many current solar customers have attended commission meetings saying they installed systems to help the environment and lower their energy bill but will now need to make payments for years longer to cover solar panel investments of $40,000 or more.
Republican state Sen. Patricia Farley, who led efforts to pass the solar bill that's now being challenged, said solar companies helped vet the bill, testified in favor of it and thanked her for it. She said it was their right to change course, but said she was in favor of NV Energy's latest proposal.
"I think we need a long-term policy on this," she said. "We need to develop the solar industry but not at the expense of the ratepayers. Multi-billion dollar companies trying to force their profit agenda is probably not the best way to go."