Solar Power Advocates Win Temporary Victory in Nevada Energy Debate

President Obama must be happy about what the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada did Aug. 26 in light of his personal crusade to save the solar power industry and crush the forces of Charles Koch and fossil fuel.

Solar power advocates scored the first victory in what seems like nothing but a typical rate-hike fight waged between environmentalists and industrialists at the bureaucratic level. But both sides say the eventual resolution of this debate will say much about America’s energy future.

NV Energy, a public utility owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy that generates electricity and natural gas for 2.4 million customers in a 44,000-square-mile service area, argued it was only fair that people with rooftop solar power panels on their homes and businesses pay an extra fee called a demand charge for the privilege of being connected to the Nevada power system.

NV Energy Vice President Kevin Geraghty argued the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada should approve a three-tier rate system for solar energy because those with solar power systems get so many credits they hardly pay NV Energy a dime, even though they depend on the grid NV Energy runs when there is no sun.

The NV Energy proposal includes a monthly basic service charge, a demand charge and an energy charge.

"A three-part rate design better reflects the unique costs of serving our net metering customers and eliminates the unreasonable shifting of costs between those that can access rooftop solar and net metering and those that don’t," said Geraghty. "This is a proven rate structure that has been in use by our commercial customers for more than 50 years. Under the proposal, net metering customers still have the opportunity to reduce their bill from NV Energy if they reduce the impact they have on the grid."

Solar energy advocates argued all NV Energy was trying to do with its demand charge was take away the incentive to install solar panels and wipe out solar competition.

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada decided Aug. 26 that solar power advocates were correct, at least for the time being.

The PUCN decided to keep the existing rate structure in place even though the state passed its cap on residential solar installations several months earlier than expected by NV Energy.

Hitting the cap did more than intensify the debate.

Bryan Miller, the co-chairman of The Alliance for Solar Choice, said the solar market shut down when NV Energy declared the previous cap had been hit.  Hundreds of solar workers appeared before the PUCN during several hearings over the last month to tell their personal stories about the impact of NV Energy's attempt to stop solar competition.

The battle between NV Energy and those on the side of solar power is not over. The PUC also tasked itself with determining long-term rules by Dec. 31.

"The hard work is now before the Commissioners to issue long-term rules," said Miller. “Nevadans will remain vocal to ensure that these rules allow Nevada's solar industry to continue creating jobs and driving economic growth."

While the PUCN continues its work and the debate rages on, there is no love lost between solar power proponents in Nevada and NV Energy.