Nevada panel takes first steps toward solar 'grandfathering'

Michelle Rindels, Associated Press

A Nevada panel took a first step Wednesday toward securing more favorable rates for the state's early-adopter rooftop customers — a concept that some lawmakers have said they support after outcry over a recent rate hike.

 

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada panel took a first step Wednesday toward securing more favorable rates for the state's early-adopter rooftop customers — a concept that some lawmakers have said they support after outcry over a recent rate hike.

Members of the Technical Advisory Committee on Distributed Generation and Storage voted to recommend that Nevada "grandfather" customers who applied to go solar by Dec. 31, 2015. That means allowing customers to revert back to the more generous rate structure in place before the Public Utilities Commission increased rates in December.

Customers could take advantage of those rates for 25 years from the date they started using their panels. The rates would be linked to the house, so if it's sold, the new owner would also be paying the lower rate.

The committee's recommendation will go up for consideration by its umbrella organization — the governor's New Energy Industry Task Force — and could become a bill in the 2017 legislative session.

Debate over solar rates gained steam last spring, as Nevada approached a statutory cap on the number of rooftop solar panel users who could participate in net metering — the process of selling excess electricity back to NV Energy.

Nevada lawmakers ultimately passed a compromise bill directing regulators to set new rates for customers that avoid any unreasonable cost-shifting.

Regulators approved new rates effective Jan. 1 that raised base charges for solar customers and reduced reimbursements for their excess power over the course of 12 years.

Commissioners said the rates would phase out subsidies that traditional energy customers pay to support solar customers, and would better reflect the declining cost of solar energy as more large-scale "farms" come online.

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, dispute that solar users are a net burden for the larger customer base. They say the rate changes make their business model unworkable and create a financial hardship for customers who invested in solar under the more favorable pricing regime.

Solar companies are also trying to get the policy changed through a ballot measure. A coalition backed by NV Energy is fighting back through TV commercials.

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