Sandoval aide: Nevada's clean energy reputation is damaged

By Michelle Rindels, Associated Press

A top aide to Gov. Brian Sandoval acknowledged that Nevada's reputation on renewable energy has been damaged in light of a recent rooftop solar rate hike, and the state needs to show the world again that it's committed to clean energy.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A top aide to Gov. Brian Sandoval acknowledged Tuesday that Nevada's reputation on renewable energy has been damaged in light of a recent rooftop solar rate hike, and the state needs to show the world again that it's committed to clean energy.

Sandoval's Chief Strategy Officer Dale Erquiaga made the comments at the first meeting of a newly reconvened New Energy Industry Task Force meeting, which will recommend policy solutions for hot-button energy issues. The panel will work on the much-publicized rooftop solarmatter, but also on how to modernize the electric grid and how to encourage clean energy developments.

"The governor sees this not just as the right thing to do, but as an economic imperative," Erquiaga said.

The Nevada Legislature directed regulators last year to set new rates for rooftop solar customers as the state reached a cap on the number of participants who could sell excess solar energy back to the utility. Regulators approved higher rates in December that rooftop solar companies said made their business model unviable in Nevada and prompted them to lay off hundreds of employees.

"Let's be honest. This state's reputation in clean and renewable energy has been damaged," Erquiaga said.

He told the task force that while they aren't the Public Utilities Commission and won't be setting new rates for solar customers, they can offer advice on how best to "grandfather" existing customers into older, more favorable rates. Solar companies have asked for existing customers, if not all customers, to be grandfathered into the more generous price structure.

On Tuesday, they again questioned the data underlying regulators' decision but also offered some praise for Sandoval, who they've previously criticized for not intervening enough in the rate-setting process.

"Even though the rooftop solar industry has essentially been decimated by the PUC's decision, we know that the public strongly supports rooftop solar and net metering and is clamoring to bring solar back," said Dan Chia of rooftop solar company SolarCity. "To the governor's credit, he is setting in motion the pathway to do this."

Meanwhile, a coalition that includes SolarCity is pursuing a statewide ballot measure that would undo many of the changes made by the Legislature and open up the old price structure to an unlimited number of customers. A court hearing is scheduled for Monday to determine whether petition supporters can proceed with collecting the signatures they need to get the referendum on the ballot.

Chandler Sherman of the Bring Back Solar Alliance, which is leading the charge for the referendum, said the group is interested in seeing what the task force comes up with but still wants to seek out the immediate relief that would come from the referendum.

The energy task force is dividing up work on its three main areas of focus. Three technical advisory committees made up of industry experts are expected to help members develop concrete policy proposals that are due to the governor by June 1.

Some of those proposals could become governor-sponsored bills up for review in the 2017 legislative session.

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