Net Metering Rebounds in Nevada

On the same date, December 20, that regulators in Arizona voted (Docket No.E-00000J-14-0023) to end retail rate net energy metering for rooftop solar customers and instead institute export rates, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada unanimously voted (Docket Nos. 16-06006, 16-06007, 16-06008, 16-06009) to “reopen on January 1 up to 6 MW of installed capacity of rooftop solar energy systems for existing and new customer-generators [of Sierra Pacific Power] under the prior net energy metering terms and rates in the service territory.”

The move to restore NEM1 for the state’s 32,000 solar customers came almost exactly one year after the Nevada commission had voted (Docket Nos. 15-07041, 15-07042) to approve higher charges on all small commercial and residential owners of rooftop generation units – in an action that industry advocates said would  squelch solar development in the state.

Indeed, after that controversial decision, the state’s largest utility, NV Energy, worked with solar advocates, including SolarCity, to come up with a grandfathering settlement for current net metering customers.

Under the terms of the settlement, current rooftop solar customers will be grandfathered in under the original retail net metering rates over a period of 20 years. The agreement covers customers who applied for or installed a rooftop solar system before December 31, 2015.

However, reinstating the program for Sierra Pacific is only the beginning: The utility, a subsidiary of NV Energy, serves just the northern part of the state – and fewer than 1 percent of the utility’s household customers currently are enrolled for net energy metering. The total installed capacity load for these customers is 10.31 MW.

Similarly there are 173 small commercial customers in the territory, with a total installed load capacity of 4.26 MW. Combining the total megawatt loads for residential and small commercial results in a total of 14.57 MW.

By opening up net metering again, the commissioners said they expect to “nearly double the growth of participants in Sierra Pacific Power’s territory over the past three years.”

What’s more, they said, the order should not result in extra costs for customers. “Under this order, the average Nevada ratepayer will see a decrease of $0.01 per month on monthly utility bills,” they wrote. Small commercial customers will see a decrease of $0.43 per month.

Chairman Joe Reynolds called last year’s decision a promise better left unkept, according to a report on December 23 by the trade publication Electrek.

“Abraham Lincoln once said that “[b]ad promises are better broken than kept…The PUCN’s prior decisions on NEM, in several respects, may be best viewed as a promise better left unkept.”

Solar advocated applauded the order. In a formal statement the Solar Energy Industries Association commented, “Nevada’s … decision strongly endorses the conclusion found by numerous prior solar cost-benefit studies that NEM simply doesn’t produce a material cost shift to other customers, particularly when penetration levels are low, stating that, “there will be no discernible cost increase on the average monthly bill to non-NEM customers.

“Once again as the year comes to a close,” the SEIA said, “we have reason for both hope and concern.  But one thing we know for certain: With about 90 percent of all Americans saying that they favor more solar, we are moving steadily toward a cleaner energy future, and solar – at both rooftop scale and large utility scale projects – is leading the way.”

Finally, the PUCN recognized that there still is more work to do. The commissioners said that they would take up the issue of net metering for Nevada Power – NV Energy’s other subsidiary, which serves the more populous part of the state – in June.

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