Gov. Brian Sandoval’s senior strategist Dale Erquiaga told the newly reformed energy task force Tuesday it’s not its job to try override the Public Utilities Commission changes to solar net metering regulations.
He made the statement after a dozen solar businesses and homeowners attending the initial task force meeting urged members to do just that.
“You are the policy advisory body,” Erquiaga said. “You will not disrespect the PUC. You will not conduct a rate hearing.”
His comments preceded testimony by PUC Regulatory Affairs Director Anne-Marie Cuneo that advised the task force the PUC was following the law.
“PUC does not allow discrimination between similarly situated customers,” she said. “We charge everyone the same rates.”
To do otherwise, she said, would force one group to subsidize another. She said the Cost of Service study concluded the old rates shifted about $16 million in costs a year from customers with solar systems to the rest of NV Energy’s customer base. For the same reason, she said grandfathering in existing solar customers to the old rates would violate that same rule because then new solar customers would be getting less for net metering than older customers.
“We would be discriminating by charging different rates,” she said.
The new net metering rates approved by the PUC significantly reduce what solar customers get for selling their power to the utility and, according to advocates eliminate any financial reason to buy and install the panels.
But solar customers and the companies who either sell the systems or lease them to homeowners charge the new rules “make future installation of such panels uneconomical through termination of the net energy metering program.”
Several lawsuits have already been filed seeking to force the PUC to repeal the new rules — including one just last week in Carson District Court and describes the PUC decision as “a big win for the utility at the expense of Nevada rooftop solar customers.”
The Carson lawsuit by the Alliance for Solar Choice argues that especially the retroactive application of the new rules is unconstitutional and must be reversed.
Since the new rules took effect, Bruce Rogel of Las Vegas said his solar installation business has evaporated. He said Nevada was the nation’s leader in solar but now has the “worst reputation in the United States because of net metering.”
Scott Shaw of Go Solar, said before the change, he had more than 50 employees installing solar systems. Now, he said, he’s down to 10 workers and a business that was 95 percent solar was about 2 percent solar.
Erquiaga said outside the meeting the task force can, however, propose legislative changes to the laws that govern solar, net metering and other renewable energy issues, which the governor supports.
But as for the PUC’s rules: “Whatever you think of that decision, you’re not the PUC.”
“We’re a nation of laws,” he said arguing if the task force thinks the law should change, it should propose those changes to the governor’s office and Legislature.
Erquiaga said the governor’s office is seeking advice on the issue from the task force. He said the task force is also charged with recommending ways to encourage development of clean energy sources and modernize the state’s energy grid.
But he also said time is limited because all agencies and bodies including the task force must present proposed legislation to the governor’s office by June 1.