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Nev. PUC may reopen net metering to Sierra Pacific Power customers

Nevada utility regulators are set to consider a draft order on Dec. 22 to reopen net energy net metering in Sierra Pacific Power Co. 's service territory. That would be a marked turnabout from their previous decisions to end such rate credits for rooftop solar across the state.

The Public Utilities Commission has included on its meeting agenda a draft order to reopen, starting Jan. 1, 2017, up to 6 MW of installed capacity for rooftop solar systems for existing and new customer-generators of the NV Energy Inc. utility subsidiary under prior net energy metering terms and rates.

The draft order concludes that the move would not shift costs to non-solar ratepayers, but instead will deliver a small savings with the installation of more rooftop solar. The conclusion is a remarkable turnaround from a year ago, when the commission shocked the solar industry with its Dec. 22, 2015, decision to kill the retail rate credit. The commission decided at that time that retail rate credits for net metered solar customers were causing a multi-million-dollar cost shift to non-solar customers. A series of rulings followed to mitigate the impact of the first decision, but the solar industry largely withdrew from the state. Eventually, the commission retreated from its no-grandfathering stance to allow existing customers get net-metered retail rate credits.

However, the three-member PUC now has two new commissioners who were appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has expressed support for rooftop solar. The draft order the PUC is now considering slams the commission's previous decisions, noting a court ruled that at least a portion of its "highly controversial decision" was made under an unlawful procedure.

"Finally, and most important, the impact of the modified final order all but crushed the rooftop solar industry in northern Nevada," the new order concludes.

The decision to end net metering was incongruous with the state's policy and legislation, the order continues. The legislature wanted the PUC to set fair and reasonable rates while still maintaining rooftop solar growth, the commission notes, saying it was not the lawmakers' intent to eliminate any cost shift, but only that which was unreasonable.

"This decision is fact-specific and is not to serve as binding precedent upon future rate cases, including those in southern Nevada," the draft order specifies, referring to Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary Nevada Power Co. 's service area, most of Nevada's solar customers are concentrated. The southern Nevada utility is the sister utility of Sierra Pacific Power under NV Energy.

"The policy of the State of Nevada clearly supports the development and growth of diverse forms of solar and renewable energy as a priority, including NEM," the draft order declares.

The average residential customer may expect a decrease of about one cent per month on monthly utility bills and the small commercial customer may expect a decrease of about 43 cents per month, the draft order says, concluding, "given that no 'unreasonable' cost shift between customer classes is created by a 6-MW expansion … NEM may grow, while average bills should not."

An increased cap of 6 MW is about 40% of the total NEM rooftop solar growth that northern Nevada has experienced over the last 20 years, the draft order says. It will allow nearly double the growth of NEM participants that has occurred in Sierra Pacific Power's territory over the past three years. (PUCN Docket No. 16-06006, 07, 08, and 09)

The Solar Energy Industries Association likened the regulatory developments in Nevada and Arizona, where regulators voted earlier this week to end net metering, to a "solar coaster" of twists and turns "with one state learning from experience and taking steps to re-start its solar market, and another succumbing to utilities' false claims," SEIA Vice President of State Affairs Sean Gallagher noted in a Dec. 21 blog post.