LAS VEGAS – In a move that resolves the most contentious issue in Nevada's rooftop solar debate, the state Public Utilities Commission on Friday approved a deal that will restore older, more favorable rates to about 32,000 customers who installed or applied for a rooftop solar system before this year.
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The commission's vote seals a settlement between utility NV Energy, rooftop solar company SolarCity, the state Bureau of Consumer Protection and the commission's staff.
A panel of lawmakers voted this spring to recommend the "grandfathering" policy after regulators approved a much-maligned rate hike in the winter.
NV Energy called Friday's regulatory action, which it requested, "the most efficient and timely way" to implement the recommendation. The new rates will take effect in December and extend for 20 years.
"The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada's decision today is fair for this set of existing net metering customers, and at the same time reinforces the clear path forward they established in February 2016 for those considering rooftop solar in the future," said NV Energy President Paul Caudill.
Commissioners raised rates for rooftop solar customers this year, saying it corrected a subsidy that non-solar customers were paying for those who had panels.
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Rooftop solar companies that had ramped up operations in Nevada responded with hundreds of layoffs and launched a campaign to reverse the decision, which they called a "bait and switch" tactic that changed the rules on people after they'd invested in solar systems.
A PAC funded by SolarCity sought to restore the old rates for all solar customers, including future ones, and gathered far more signatures than needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot. A group largely funded by NV Energy fought back and eventually prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, which ruled the measure shouldn't be up for a statewide vote.
Solar proponents applauded regulators' decision to grandfather customers, with the SolarCity-backed Bring Back Solar campaign calling it a "tremendous victory" for people who had "advocated tirelessly for solar since last year's rate hike."
But advocates also said more must be done for future customers.
"While the action today by the PUCN is a step in the right direction, and brings justice to homeowners that already have solar, it does nothing to bring solar jobs back, or to make it possible for homes and businesses to go solar," said Andy Maggi of the Nevada Conservation League.
He called for state lawmakers to eliminate solar fees, restore net metering credits and promote solar development in low-income areas.