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Nev. legislature passes bill to restore rooftop solar net metering

The Nevada Senate unanimously passed a bill that largely restores net metering, the practice of paying rooftop solar owners for electricity they supply to the grid. Under the new bill, rate credits would start at 95% of customers' retail kilowatt hour billing rates and drop over time for future solar customers to no lower than 75%.

If Gov. Brian Sandoval signs the measure, Assembly Bill 405 will largely restore the rate at which residential solar customers receive credits on their electricity bills for excess power sent to the grid from their rooftop solar systems. The Public Utilities Commission ended net metering at the full retail rate at the end of 2015, dealing a devastating blow to Nevada's distributed solar industry.

The Senate passed the measure 21-0 on June 4, and the Assembly concurred with Senate amendments on the same day. The bill would take effect on Sept. 1.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Chris Brooks said by phone the measure would provide 95% of the retail electricity price as a credit to residential customers for net energy those customers put on the grid for the first 80 MW of new distributed solar, 88% for the next 80 MW, 81% for the third 80 MW tier and 75% for the rest, which is open-ended, meaning there are no MW capacity limits in the bill for the fourth tier. The entire state so far has only 250 MW of rooftop solar installed, Brooks pointed out, so it will take time to reach the 75% tier.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, the Senate's co-minority whip, expressed hope that lawmakers will have an opportunity to revisit the legislation if net meter subsidies become too much of a burden on nonsolar customers. "I firmly believe there is one [a subsidy] and I'm okay with helping with a small subsidy, but the question is how large and I'm fearful," Settelmeyer said during a June 2 hearing of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee, which passed the bill to the floor. He said he was especially concerned about the permanence of the "75% bucket," as he referred to the fourth tier of customers.

Committee Chair Kelvin Atkinson, who worked with Brooks and the governor's staff on 10 amendments to the bill, said the legislation was the result of much negotiation. Brooks has an extensive background in distributed solar, having founded Las Vegas Solar Electric and later directing Bombard Renewable Energy. Atkinson said the legislature will have time to address the subsidy issue in a future legislative session if it becomes a problem.

The net metering legislation would apply to customers of NV Energy Inc., whose subsidiaries, Nevada Power Co. and Sierra Pacific Power Co., serve about 1.3 million customers in the state.

Solar company Sunrun’s Vice President of Public Policy Alex McDonough welcomed the bill's passage, saying by email, "This is a victory hard won and a testament to the overwhelming support for rooftop solar in Nevada ... We look forward to Governor Sandoval signing AB 405 into law and appreciate his leadership in bringing rooftop solar back to Nevada."