Bright Spot: Nevada Legislature votes to restore rooftop solar program

After nearly a year and a half of uncertainty, Nevada residents may once again be able to take advantage of rooftop solar energy.

After nearly a year and a half of uncertainty, Nevada residents may once again be able to take advantage of rooftop solar energy.

Following passage in the Nevada Assembly, the Nevada Senate voted unanimously (21–0) on Sunday to almost fully restore net metering rates by passing AB405. The Assembly concurred, which sent the bill to Governor Brian Sandoval, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law. (Governor, please do!)

This is a big victory for solar, showing that smart, forward-thinking policies will ultimately win the day. But it was a long, hard-fought journey. In December of 2015, the Nevada Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted to slash net metering rates for new and existing solar customers. Not only did the Nevada PUC’s decision severely curtail the rate at which solar customers were compensated for the extra solar energy they produced, it imposed an extra fixed charge as well.

The fallout was swift and devastating.

With rooftop solar undervalued and slapped with new fees, Nevadans stopped putting panels on their roofs — the month following the decision saw a 93 percent decline in rooftop solar applications.

Around 32,000 Nevadans who already had solar panels got swept up in the new rates, essentially a bait-and-switch that upended the investments homeowners made by going solar, until public outcry and a governor’s task force later grandfathered these folks into the original rates.

What’s more, the two biggest solar companies operating in Nevada announced that they were closing up shop and more than 2,600 jobs left the state.

So — how did this happen? Solar energy improves our air, water and land, allows communities to fight climate change, saves folks money on monthly energy bills, and is popular. Yet, some large utilities and entrenched fossil fuel interests are resisting the solar transition — especially in the places where it’s most successful — to defend their bottom line.

That’s precisely what happened in Nevada, where the utility NV Energy lobbied hard to influence the Nevada PUC’s initial decision to cut the program. And like the above video shows, it’s something we’re seeing all across the country, from Arizona to Florida. It’s why we launched our Stand Up For Solar defense campaign, because it’s important to not only fight for stronger solar policy, but also to stave off any potential setbacks.

While NV Energy succeeded in temporarily setting back solar in Nevada, public support and strong legislative champions won the day.

Hats off to the groups who fought tooth and nail on the ground, including the Nevada Conservation League, Vote Solar, Battle Born Progress, Chispa, Clean Energy Project, the Bring Back Solar Coalition, the Alliance for Solar Choice, Advanced Energy Economy and the entire RenewNV coalition.

Three cheers for Assemblymembers Chris Brooks and Justin Watkins for sponsoring and pushing the bill forward. Despite formidable opposition from utilities and the fossil fuel industry, these folks created momentum to swing the state toward a solar future that most Nevadans want.

So, what exactly does the bill do? AB405 will:

  • Restore net metering at 95 percent of retail rate electricity credits; well above the cut to wholesale rate that wiped out the market in 2015;
  • Allow solar customers to lock in their rates for 20 years, the average lifespan of a solar installation;
  • Protect solar users from separate rate classes where they could be charged special fees;
  • Improve transparency from solar companies as to how savings get calculated; and
  • Ensure net metering policy will remain intact in the event the state moves forward with utility deregulation.

In short — if signed, AB405 will mostly restore rooftop solar in Nevada and help to protect solar consumers. That’s a win-win for the public and the environment.

The bill isn’t perfect; amendments created tiers that would decrease net metering credits over time, which will likely undervalue rooftop solar as a resource in the state.

That being said, it’s still a huge step forward, especially at a time when our federal government refuses to lead on climate or renewable energy, and when other states like Indiana have just made the same mistake to kill their state’s rooftop solar program.

Stay tuned for an update on the next solar battle, where we’re fighting against a proposal by one of Arizona’s biggest utilities that would impose new fees and reduce credits for solar customers.