Justices deciding if solar referendum qualifies for ballot

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LAS VEGAS — A group that wants Nevada voters to reverse a much-protested rooftop solar rate hike is making the case that the issue deserves a place on the November ballot.

The Nevada Supreme Court heard an appeal Friday from No Solar Tax PAC, which is backed by SolarCity, a company that laid off many Nevada employees in the wake of the rate increase earlier this year. A lower court judge ruled in March that the group’s proposed measure didn’t qualify as a referendum and should instead be pursued in the initiative petition format.

Supporters continued gathering signatures in spite of their court setback, and collected more than enough to appear on the ballot if the high court gives the green light.

Rooftop solar groups face opposition from the Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness PAC, which is funded largely by NV Energy. The PAC contends that NV Energy customers without rooftop solar will be forced to subsidize customers who have the panels.

In the hour-long hearing, referendum opponent Robert Eisenberg argued that the measure tries to remove small, specific portions of the law in a way that drastically changes the law’s meaning. He said that approach effectively proposes a new law — something that can be done through the initiative petition process.

The referendum process is geared toward removing laws.

Eisenberg also argued that the proposed ballot measure’s description of effect misleads voters, telling them it will return net metering as it worked historically. There was a cap on participation in the past, but the referendum would not bring that back, and Eisenberg said that’s a critical omission.

Lawyer Kevin Benson, who’s defending the referendum, said the description expresses that a solar industry hurt by the rate hike will return.

Benson also argued that the measure meets the standards of a referendum, and too much scrutiny suppresses citizens’ right to propose such measures.

Justices didn’t immediately issue a ruling on the case.


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