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Nevada reinstates solar industry, prodigal sons return

by Danielle Ola (Jun 9, 2017) www.pvtech.org

Nevada solar moved up in a big way earlier this week, with the state legislature passing several bills to ensure the industry will return to its former heights.

AB 405, if enacted by governor Brian Sandoval, would restore the state’s net metering scheme that was effectively destroyed in a 2015 Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision that caused many residential installers to cease operations in the Silver State.

The bill also includes solar consumer protection measures and a ‘Bill of Rights’ for solar customers, as a stopgap mechanism to prevent a similar situation repeating itself when the residential market stalled and around 2,600 jobs were lost.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) issued a statement recently urging Sandoval to approve the legislation.

“We applaud Assemblymen Watkins, Brooks, Yeager, and Fugo and Senators Ford, Atkinson, Manendo, and Spearman for their leadership, and we urge Governor Sandoval to sign this bill into law and restore Nevada to its rightful spot as a top solar state,” Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for SEIA, said.

“Nevada is one step closer to a policy that will allow it to get back thousands of solar jobs that were lost,” Gallagher added. “This bill is a compromise that doesn’t fully value the benefits of distributed solar. It will, however, allow Nevada consumers and small businesses who may have wanted to go solar, but found it uneconomic under the existing solar policies, to now proceed.”

Back in business

The passage of these bills that boost clean energy, in particular the bill that would allow solar customers to be paid for their excess solar power, has resulted in companies who previously exited Nevada after the PUC scrapped the popular net metering programme, to return.

PV Tech previously reported on Utah-headquartered Vivint Solar returning to the state. In addition, San Francisco’s Sunrun left Nevada in January 2015 after the PUC decision with the loss of hundreds of jobs, but has announced its return on the prospect of solar picking up again.

“The near unanimous bipartisan support for legislation to reinstate net metering and establish a bill of rights for solar customers is a reflection of overwhelming public demand for affordable, clean energy options,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO and co-founder of Sunrun, in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of Governor Sandoval and Nevada State Legislators, we can now say with confidence that Sunrun is coming back to Nevada.”

SolarCity exited at the same time as Sunrun. But now, Tesla, which owns SolarCity, also applauded the decision of the legislature to reinstate the state’s residential solar segment.

“Tesla will begin selling rooftop solar and residential storage products in Nevada, and we look forward to bringing even more jobs to the state in the years ahead to help provide residents with affordable rooftop solar and energy storage choices,” Tesla said in a statement.

Under the new law, rooftop solar customers will be reimbursed for excess generation at 95% of the retail electricity rate. As more solar is installed, the rate will fall, but it stops at 75%.

“This legislation, which is supported by businesses and consumers alike, will not only bring back solar energy to Nevada and enable the industry to innovate and grow sustainably, it will create thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Things are looking up for the Silver State, with governor Sandoval stating that he intends to sign AB 405 into law.

“I will soon be signing a bill with regard to net metering” he said. “Nevada has always been a place, and will continue to be a place, that leads the county with regard to our renewable resources,” he said on Monday.

Other bills

The good news for solar in Nevada does not stop there, as the legislature also passed AB 206 which expands the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) to 40% renewable energy by 2030, up from its former 25% by 2025. A coalition of clean energy advocates, including the SEIA and the American Wind Association (AWEA) wrote a letter to the governor, also urging him to sign this bill into law also.

Increasing the target is expected to attract over US$3 billion in additional investment to Nevada, as well as fostering greater energy diversity to result in more consumer savings.

A third bill to make it through the legislature with potential to bolster Nevada’s renewable energy prowess is SB 292 that will establish a state-wide community solar program if enacted.

 CLICK HERE to read the original article.

5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

by Travis Holum (May 2, 2017)  newsfeedback@fool.com

Solar energy was the single biggest source of new electricity capacity in the United States in 2016 and now makes up over 1% of all electricity generated in the country. And with solar energy now cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear in most of the country, the industry is primed for growth in the next decade. 

What’s surprising is where all of this solar is being installed. Sure, California is a big solar state, but when you look at the top five solar states per capita, there are some surprisingly solar-friendly states in the nation. The five states with the most solar per capita are Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, California, and Arizona.

Nevada takes the top solar spot

California is by far the biggest solar state, with 18,296 MW of solar capacity having been installed through the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 3 million homes. But it’s not the top solar state per capita. 

Nevada actually has the most solar relative to its population, with 745 watts per capita, or nearly three solar panels per person. At peak sunlight, that’s enough to power 67 high-efficiency LED light bulbs. Most of the solar power isn’t on residents’ rooftops; it’s instead in large utility-scale power plants in the Nevada desert. For example, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) has built 150 MW at the Boulder City 1 and 2 power plants, and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has built the 250 MW Moapa Solar Project near Las Vegas. With plenty of solar resources and the ability to export energy into Southern California’s energy market, Nevada will probably remain near the top of the solar per capita list for years to come. 

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

Second on the list is Utah, with 488 watts per capita, a surprisingly high level for a state that gets very little national attention in solar. And its 1,489 MW of total solar installations will power 292,000 homes, or 40% of all homes in the state. Utah is also the home of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR), one of the biggest residential solar installers in the country, and with lots of solar resources on the southern side of the state, the industry has a bright future there. 

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

Hawaii is third, with 472 watts of solar per capita, and if you’ve visited the state recently, this is no surprise. Rooftop solar is commonplace, and now islands such as Kauai are pushing toward 100% renewables.

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has built a solar-plus-storage plant on Kauai, and AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) recently signed a deal to build 28 MW of solar and 100 MWh of energy storage for just $0.11 per kWh, less than the average retail price of electricity in the continental United States. And with Hawaii’s electricity costs about triple the national average –because it burns oil for most electricity — this is a state that could be No. 1 in solar per capita very soon. 

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

California is fourth in the country, with 466 watts of solar per capita. It’s home to a large number of utility-scale solar projects and is the No. 1 state for rooftop solar as well. California has been more aggressive than most states in adopting policies both to drive solar growth and to provide fair compensation for all consumers, with time-of-use rates for residents having become a renewable portfolio standard that drove utility installations over the last decade. Its sheer size may make it hard for it to become first in per capita rankings, but this will be the biggest state for solar overall for a long time. 

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

Arizona is the fifth-highest solar state per capita, at 430 watts. The state has been home of some of the biggest fights in residential solar, with utility APS opposing net metering vigorously. But large projects such as First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente project are still going up, and it’s hard to fight the low cost of solar in the state. And with abundant solar resources, Arizona should be a big solar state in the future. 

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

If you’re into solar energy, there are some surprising states to keep an eye on beyond these top five. North Carolina is the No. 2 solar state in the country by cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2016, with 3,016 MW of solar, a surprise for a state that hasn’t typically been seen as solar-friendly. Georgia and Texas are Nos. 8 and 9 nationally, with 1,432 MW and 1,215 MW, respectively, but both have abundant solar resources and should move up the list. 

What’s certain is that with solar energy now competitive with fossil fuels for utilities, commercial users, and homeowners across the country, the amount of solar energy per capita will only grow in the future. 

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Utah’s Decision On Solar Rates Leaves People In Limbo

by Judy Fahys (Dec 22, 2016) kuer.org

Snow’s been swept from the roof of a Davis County home where workmen mount supports for new solar panels. Aaron Gray manages quality control, and he loves what he does. But a piece of Gray’s heart is back where he used to work: Las Vegas. His wife and two sons still live there.

“It’s hard — it’s hard to be away from my family,” he says. “I mean those two little guys are my life, along with my wife, and she takes the sole burden of raising those two boys while I’m gone.”

This time last year Solar City began laying off most of its Nevada workforce. The new rates brought rooftop solar investments to a standstill. Gray’s job was one of the casualties when the market collapsed.

“It was tough,” he says. “It’s — I mean it’s not a good way to roll into the holidays. You’re not knowing where the next move is going to be.”

Gray won’t move his family here because he’s worried this job could disappear too. That’s because Rocky Mountain Power has asked to restructure its rates for Utah customers with rooftop panels.

Now Gray’s worried that Utah’s booming solar industry might screech to a halt like Nevada’s did. And he’s in good company.

Thousands of solar industry jobs evaporated in Nevada when utility regulators ended net metering. That was last year, and now Utah’s economy is bracing for a final decision on rooftop solar rates here and the impacts it might have.

Paul Murphy is the spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, a sister company of NV Energy and the utility behind Nevada’s rate rewrite.

“This is an issue that’s facing every utility in the country.”

Murphy says rooftop solar customers enjoy subsidies of about $400 a year from traditional residential customers. And, with projections of rapid growth, the subsidy would add up to around $667 million dollars over the next two decades.

“People talk about being fair and I think the issue is about fairness,” he says. “Is it fair to force others to pay for their neighbors’ rooftop solar panels?”

Rocky Mountain Power recognizes that its customers want clean energy. It secures power from large-scale arrays in southern Utah and offers it through a subscriber-solar program.

“If the goal is to have clean energy,” says Murphy, “the most economical way to add solar energy to the system is to go to big, big solar farms.

“Which you have,” a reporter says.

“Which we have,” Murphy says.

It’s a classic power struggle: rooftop solar companies fighting for traction in terrain where a competitor had a monopoly for decades. Similar battles are happening in half the states in the country.

“I think all eyes are upon Utah now the same way all eyes were upon Nevada,” says Austin Perea, a solar-industry analyst with GTM Research in Boston.

“Last year Nevada installed nearly 90 megawatts of solar,” he says. “This past quarter, they installed just over 1 megawatt on the residential side. So, it basically cratered the market.”

Perea hints that Nevada’s become a cautionary tale for other states – partly because it had more solar jobs per capita last year than any other state, nearly 9,000.

Utah ranked tenth on that list — with around 2,700 jobs — and looked primed to boom. But, lots of people want to know if Utah’s solar industry will keep growing so fast. Much depends on what Utah utility regulators ultimately decide.

Sarah Wright, director of the non-profit Utah Clean Energy, is one of the organizations that urged regulators to reject Rocky Mountain Power’s plan to start the new rates this month. She and some staffers were stuffing envelopes late on a Friday afternoon two weeks ago when the PSC announced the rates are suspended – but only temporarily.

“This is a reprieve,” she says, noting that Utah’s rooftop rates won’t be settled until August or later. “The problem is that the proposal that Rocky Mountain Power put on the table for net-metering customers would have dramatically hurt customers going forward and the industry.”

Rocky Mountain Power is talking with the solar industry and advocacy groups like Wright’s about a possible compromise.

“Our goal,” says Wright, “is to see a proposal go forward that works for all customers and allows the solar industry to thrive.”

While negotiations continue, the future for solar workers like Gray remains uncertain.

“It’s very much the same feeling to be in limbo of what the decision is going to be by the PSC here.”

Meanwhile, he’ll keep making that six-hour drive to see his family in Las Vegas every other weekend.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

by Steve Hanley (Aug 16, 2016) cleantechnica.com

Solar power disrupts the business of existing utility companies. In exchange for being granted a monopoly to generate and distribute electricity in a given geographic area, utilities are guaranteed a certain rate of return. That gives them an incentive to spend more money on power plants and grid expansion. The more they spend, the more money they are allowed earn. That’s how the power game is played in the US.

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Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar

Utility grids are designed to distribute electricity from one or two central locations to many residential and commercial users. But solar customers often feed excess electricity back into the grid from its margins. That cuts into utilities’ profits, so they try their best to put up barriers to the practice.

They complain that solar customers are not paying their fair share to maintain the grid (and line the pockets of utility company executives). They try to lower the amount they pay solar customers for their electricity. Another favorite tactic is to impose a surcharge on the utility bills of customers with rooftop solar installations.

Solar customers argue that they are conferring a benefit on all people in the service area because their electricity is not made by burning fossil fuels. They say they should be compensated for the improved health prospects of the community. They also argue that they shouldn’t pay as much toward the upkeep of the grid and limited expansion needs because their electricity is used locally and doesn’t need to travel long distances over high-voltage lines.

Earlier this year, the Nevada public utilities commission (PUC) knuckled under to the demands of Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. It ended the requirement that the utility pay for excess electricity and imposed hefty monthly surcharges on rooftop solar customers. All across America, utility companies have initiated a war on rooftop solar. It’s not that they object to solar energy, as such. It’s just they don’t want to give up control over what they think of as “their grid.” They also don’t want their income reduced in any way.

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

Regulators in Arizona and New Mexico have sided with solar customers in two recent instances. On Thursday, the Arizona Corporation Commission rejected the request by UNS Electric to add fees for solar customers and do away with net metering. Solar advocates in the state applauded the decision, which came after two full days of testimony in front of the commission.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power,” Briana Kobor, a program director with Vote Solar, said in a statement. “I appreciate the Commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona.”

“This decision is great news for Arizona families and small businesses that plan on going solar, and for everyone who breathes cleaner air as a result,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. “The decision sends a powerful message to Arizona utilities that the Commission will not simply rubberstamp their anti-solar agenda.”

Also last week, regulators in New Mexico approved a settlement that will decrease the amount of fees for solar customers in Southwestern Public Service Company’s service area. That utility had also proposed an increase in fixed charges for solar customers.

The struggle between utilities and solar customers is far from over. Elon Musk last week made some conciliatory remarks when he said there is room enough for all in the electricity markets of the future. He also foresees an end to net metering. Musk expects the demand for electricity to double or triple as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. But solar power advocates are happy to win two small skirmishes in the war this week.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Nevada Supreme Court Blocks Rooftop Solar Referendum

by Julia Pyper (Aug. 8, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com

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The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling on Thursday that blocks constituents from voting to restore favorable rates to rooftop solar customers. The decision puts increased pressure on lawmakers to implement a policy change during the next legislative session.

The court ruling addresses a ballot initiative championed by the Bring Back Solar Alliance, a rooftop solar advocacy coalition backed by SolarCity. The referendum sought to repeal a piece of law that allowed utility regulators to impose higher fees on home solar customers.

Regulators approved the new tariff rate in late December. The order increased the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers, and gradually lowered compensation for net excess solar generation from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity over four years. The changes took effect on January 1, 2016 and promptly brought the rooftop solar market in the state to a standstill, causing companies to cut jobs. The changes were applied retroactively to all net-metered solar customers, eliciting a strong backlash from solar companies and consumer groups.

In February, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada rejected requests from NV Energy and solar advocates to approve a 20-year grandfathering period for Nevada’s roughly 32,000 existing solar customers (previous estimates put the number at 18,000). Instead, regulators voted unanimously to transition rooftop solar customers onto the contentious new rate plan over 12 years, instead of the initially proposed four.

More than 115,000 people signed the Bring Back Solar Alliance’s petition to overturn the solar rate changes. But after expressing some concern over the ballot wording last month, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled this week that the motion is not a referendum, but rather an “initiative petition,” which means solar advocates would have to launch a new petition urging lawmakers to pass a bill undoing the solar rate changes. Only if legislators fail to approve the measure during the 2017 session can it go to voters in 2018. The initiative petition requires more than 55,000 new signatures by the fall in order to proceed.

“The Supreme Court decision basically invalidated the ballot signatures,” said Chandler Sherman, deputy campaign manager for the Bring Back Solar Alliance, in an interview. “115,000 people said they want the opportunity to vote on this issue in November, but since this can’t be in the hands of the people because of the Supreme Court decision, we hope the legislature will take action to enact the will of the people and reverse the PUC decision, restore net metering and allow people to go solar again.”

Sherman said the Alliance does not currently plan to file a ballot initiative, although it is still an option. Now that the referendum is off the table, solar advocates are looking into filing a “bill draft request” with the state legislature instead. Similar to an initiative petition, a bill draft request calls on lawmakers to take up a legislative issue.

“Either way, it’s in the hands of legislators going forward,” said Sherman.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval also plans to push lawmakers to alter the new solar rates. In May, the governor’s New Energy Industry Task Force, convened in response to the net metering decision, passed a motion to grandfather existing solar customers on the old solar rates for 25 years. Recommendations from the Task Force will underpin legislation introduced by Governor Sandoval next year.

In an interesting twist, Sandoval announced last month that he will not reappoint PUCN commissioner David Noble, who wrote the order to increase solar fees and not allow grandfathering. Sandoval has been critical of the PUCN’s decision not to grandfather existing solar customers (which has become a highly politicized issue in the state) and appears to be holding Noble accountable.

On July 27, two days before the Nevada Supreme Court ruled on the referendum, NV Energy reentered the solar policy fray, filing a request for regulators to keep customers who installed their rooftop solar systems prior to December 31, 2015 on the previous net metering rates for 20 years. The utility asked for the grandfathering rule to also apply to customers with active or pending applications as of December 31, 2015.

When NV Energy initiated the request to reduce net metering compensation in July 2015, the utility asked that no changes be made for existing customers. Facing criticism, NV Energy also issued a statement in February saying it supports grandfathering. With its latest filing, utility executives blamed the unfavorable outcome squarely on national solar companies.

“Unfortunately, it appears that these out-of-state solar suppliers are more concerned with increasing the subsidies needed to run their businesses than taking care of their approximately 32,000 contracted customers, who are our customers too,” said Kevin Geraghty, senior vice president of energy supply at the utility. “It seems that they created uncertainty for customers who purchased or leased a rooftop system by not clearly communicating that their rates were subject to change in future regulatory proceedings. Many of these net metering customers entered into 20-year leases believing that they would be locked into a rate, and that they would save money because NV Energy rates would increase every year. Neither of these sales pitches are true.”

NV Energy’s latest filing requests a response from regulators in 90 days. However, it may be too late for meaningful regulatory action. The net metering docket has been untouched since the February rehearing. So to approve grandfathering, the PUCN would have to open a proceeding and decide to go back on a ruling it has already passed twice. NV Energy’s filing, coming amid the referendum and action from the governor, could help make grandfathering a reality. Though some may question why the utility didn’t take stronger action sooner.

A report from Credit Suisse notes that the approval of grandfathering in Nevada could have ramifications for the entire solar industry, “as it could restore nationwide faith in the grandfathering precedent.” But even if the old rates are restored for customers who installed their systems before December 31, 2015, the change does nothing to reboot the Nevada rooftop solar market going forward.

A recent poll found that a majority of respondents are in favor of bringing back net metering “to allow better rates for rooftop solar customers.”

“Constituents are paying attention — it’s a top-of-mind issue for Nevada voters and something people care about and want to fix,” said Sherman. “Now it’s up to the legislature.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Florida Utilities Determined To Mislead Voters

YES ON 1?  UH . . . NO!

July 15th, 2016 by Steve Hanley (solarlove.org)

Rooftop solar power in Florida is under assault. A ballot initiative sponsored by the Floridians For Solar Choice would have prevented the state government or utility companies from imposing “barriers to supplying local solar electricity.” If passed, it would have allowed homeowners to install rooftop solar systems with few upfront costs. It would also have allowed shopping centers to install solar panels on their roofs and sell the electricity to their commercial tenants. Unfortunately, that amendment failed to gather enough signatures to qualify to be on the ballot in November.

Florida solar ballot intitiative

But the state’s utility companies have come up with a ballot proposal that sounds similar to the one Floridians For Solar Choice was promoting. Entitled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” it guarantees consumers “the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.” So far, so good. Then it adds what seems like an afterthought. “[C]onsumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

That last language leaves it up to the state’s public utilities commission to decide such issues as whether local utilities can assess monthly “grid charges” to people with rooftop solar systems and whether utility companies need to compensate them for excess electricity fed back into the grid. Similar provisions imposed by utilities in Nevada essentially put the rooftop solar industry out of business. SolarCity decided to shut down its operations in the state, a move that put more than 500 people out of work.

The Miami Herald castigates the initiative with this headline: Florida’s solar amendment designed to mislead voters. The Florida Supreme Court approved the utility backed ballot initiative, now rebranded as “Yes On 1 For The Sun, by one vote. Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a scathing dissent, “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

We like to think that the benefits of solar power are self evident and that solar is about to sweep away old fashioned generating facilities with their noxious fumes and toxic emissions. But as the chart above put together by the Energy and Policy Institute demonstrates, powerful interests — including the Koch Brothers == have deep pockets and are willing to spend millions to protect what they perceive as their God given right to pollute the environment just as long as it is profitable to do so.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Big Data Center Company Sues Nevada Regulators, Utility Over Solar Deal

by Katie Fehrenbacher (July 14, 2016) FORTUNE.COM

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It’s the latest dispute in Nevada over solar.

The owner of some of the world’s largest data centers has sued Nevada regulators and that state’s utility over a solar energy deal that it says led to it being overcharged.

Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch filed a lawsuit this week that alleges that its agreement to buy solar power, partly brokered by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and utility NV Energy, was unfair, overpriced, and that employees of the state regulator acted inappropriately. The suit, which asks for $30 million in damages, claims fraud, negligence, and conspiracy.

The lawsuit is the latest dispute that has emerged involving solar energy in Nevada, a state with ample sunshine that was an early clean energy supporter.

As companies and residents in Nevada increasingly install solar panels, and sometimes unplug from the power grid, the state regulator and NV Energy are trying to figure out how to manage. The utility and the regulator have repeatedly clashed with both companies selling solar panels and customers buying solar panels.

NV Energy is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Switch, along with some of the world’s largest Internet companies like Google GOOG -0.15% and Apple AAPL -0.01% , have increasingly sought to buy solar and wind power to operate data centers as a way to manage energy costs and be more environmentally friendly.

Switch, which has two massive data centers in Nevada, says it started trying to buy solar power from NV Energy in 2011. Its data centers, which sell services to eBay, Zappos and Cisco, are power-hungry facilities that are filled with computers.

Switch says NV Energy ignored its requests to buy solar power, prompting it to file an application in 2014 to disconnect from the grid so that it could seek solar power from other sources like First Solar FLSR 0.00% .

In the summer of 2015, Switch says the Nevada Public Utilities Commission denied its application to leave the grid. The regulator found that because Switch was such a large power customer, leaving the grid would financially hurt NV Energy and force it to raise rates and thus harm other power customers.

Instead, regulators said that Switch could buy solar power for a higher price through a deal with First Solar, but with NV Energy as the middleman. Switch says it agreed to the deal because it felt like it had no other options, and because an important federal solar subsidy was set to expire by the end of the year that would have driven up solar prices even more (the federal subsidy ended up getting extended).

First Solar is now installing 180 megawatts of solar panels as part of a deal to sell the power to Switch. That’s enough energy to run close to 30,000 average American homes.

Following Switch’s solar deal, the regulator later allowed several large Las Vegas casinos to disconnect from the power grid, with the agreement that the casinos would have to pay hefty fees to NV Energy to leave.

Switch says the solar deal it agreed to was an unlawful attempt to “retain Switch as a customer of the monopoly NV Energy.” Switch also says that the NPUC’s attorney, Carolyn Tanner, acted inappropriately by discussing the case on social media using a pseudonym.

The NPUC said it has yet to receive service of the complaint and therefore has no comment at this time.

NV Energy said in a statement:

“Switch is a very important customer to NV Energy, and given how far we thought we had come over the past two and a half years of working with their team on a variety of issues and opportunities, we are surprised and disappointed with this turn of events. If we are eventually served with the complaint, we will vigorously defend our company and our employees from baseless claims.”

This isn’t the first time a company has accused the NPUC and NV Energy of colluding.

Late last year, regulators approved a plan to increase the fees and lower the rates that solar customers earn for generating electricity. The new rate structure makes roof-installed solar panels uneconomical in the state, according to solar companies, some of which stopped doing business in Nevada.

Following the solar roof rate change, solar companies like SolarCity SCTY 1.58% and SunRun RUN -1.17% accused the NPUC of being in the pocket of NV Energy. NPUC Chairman Paul Thomsen denied the accusation in an interview with Fortune.

Solar companies and solar customers are turning to other venues to fight the regulator’s decisions.

A ballot measure, dubbed the Energy Choice Initiative, if approved would enable companies to buy power on the open market rather than only through the utility. That measure will be voted on in November.

Another ballot measure would ask voters if they want to restore the more favorable solar rates. That measure is being contested in the state Supreme Court, but also made it onto the ballot in November.

Lawsuits have been pointed at all parties over the solar roof rate change. In March a solar group filed a lawsuit against the NPUC seeking to overturn the new solar rates. Earlier this year solar customers filed a class action lawsuit against NV Energy, alleging the utility provided false information to the state’s regulator. And another solar customer sued SolarCity accusing it of failing to disclose information about the potential rate change.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Nevada panel recommends rooftop solar ‘grandfathering

by Associated Press (May 27, 2016) www.fox5vegas.com

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A Nevada task force wants to allow the state’s early-adopter rooftop solar customers to go back to an older, more favorable rate structure.

The state’s New Energy Industry Task Force voted Thursday to recommend a bill be drafted that would “grandfather” customers who applied to go solar by Dec. 31, 2015. The task force recommended letting customers keep the lower rates for 20 years from the date their system started operating.

Lawmakers could consider the proposed bill when they reconvene in early 2017.

The Public Utilities Commission voted to increase rates in December, saying it would eliminate a subsidy paid by customers without rooftop solar panels.

Rooftop solar companies dispute the cost-shift and cut jobs in Nevada, saying the rates made their business models unviable.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Buffett Says He Loves Renewables, So Why Is His Company Trying To Kill Solar Energy?

by Joe Romm (March 7, 2016) thinkprogress.org

Warren Buffet 02

Warren Buffett’s recent annual letter to shareholders extols renewable energy. Yet he fails to mention that his company is working to crush solar energy in Nevada and around the western United States.

In Part One, I explored how Buffett, despite being one of the world’s most successful investors, mistakenly downplays the climate risk to his company, Berkshire Hathaway (BH). In particular, he fails to tell investors of the climate risk associated with his massive $1.1 billion investment in Canadian tar sands giant Suncor, a company that can only make a big profit by helping to destroy a livable climate.

Buffett’s letter is equally questionable on renewable energy. The “Oracle of Omaha” portrays himself and BH as a friend to renewables. For instance, Buffett says of his energy subsidiary, Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE): “Last year, BHE made major commitments to the future development of renewables in support of the Paris Climate Change Conference. Our fulfilling those promises will make great sense, both for the environment and for Berkshire’s economics.”

“That company has invested $16 billion in renewables and now owns 7% of the country’s wind generation and 6% of its solar generation,” Buffett’s letter elaborated. “Indeed, the 4,423 megawatts of wind generation owned and operated by our regulated utilities is six times the generation of the runner-up utility. We’re not done.”

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Yet his solar-hyping shareholder letter never mentions that BHE owns NV Energy, which almost single-handedly destroyed the exploding solar rooftop market in Nevada. As we reported last year, Buffett’s utility successfully lobbied the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to slash the “net metering” payments to solar customers for the electricity they put back on the grid (when their rooftop PV generates more power than they themselves are using at the moment). NV Energy defeated Elon Musk’s SolarCity, a very big solar installer, which lobbied against the massive rate hike.

Customers who buy solar will no longer be paid for any excess electricity at the retail rate (some 11 cents per kilowatt-hour). Instead they’ll be paid a rate that keeps dropping until it hits the wholesale rate (2.6 cents per kwh) — “even though the utility doesn’t have to pay for any of the solar panels’ hardware or maintenance, and transmission costs are negligible, since the electricity is being generated close to where it is used.”

Thanks to its successful lobbying, NV Energy will ultimately be able to take whatever excess electricity it buys from solar customers at 2.6 cents per kwh and simply sell it to other customers at 11 cents! Now that is capitalism.

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Even worse, NV Energy got the PUC to to punish people who already bought solar! The change in net metering will be applied even to customers who bought solar under the previous rate structure. So if you got a PV system in good faith under a rate structure in which it was economical, you still get screwed, by possibly as much as $11,000 over the next 20 years. That kind of sounds more like greed than capitalism.

Significantly, while the NV PUC voted 3-0 for this new rate structure in late 2015, a year earlier they issued a report finding that rooftop solar customers actually give back more to the grid than they cost.

Buffett never mentions this fight in his shareholder letter, even though it received a great deal of media coverage, including the BloombergBusiness “Buffett vs. Musk” wrestling cover, and even though Buffett has not been shy about giving interviews defending NV Energy. For instance, here is what Buffett told CNBC last week:

We do not want our million plus customers that do not have solar to be buying solar at 10.5 cents when we can turn it out for them at 4.5 cents or buy it for them at 4.5 cents. So we do not want the non-solar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers.

There are two major problems with Buffett’s argument. First, it just isn’t true. Second, Buffett makes virtually the opposite argument in his shareholder letter.

Rooftop Solar Helps, Not Hurts, NV Energy’s Other Customers

First, the PUC study found rooftop solar doesn’t “cost shift,” and in fact concluded “there was a $36 million net benefit to all customers over a 25-year period,” as the Las Vegas Sun explained in December.

It’s fairly obvious that — even if we ignore all of the many well-documented benefits of distributed solar — the 17,000 solar customers couldn’t be cost-shifting very much to over a million other customers because they are such a tiny fraction of the customer base. Also, they use much if not most of the rooftop solar directly themselves. The cost shift would only occur for the even tinier fraction of power they sold back during peak demand — a time, it must be pointed out, when electricity costs are generally very high. Indeed, that power is often provided by expensive “peaking” natural gas plants that run only tens of hours a year.

Moreover, forcing the rooftop-solar owners to pay the wholesale price would only save the non-rooftop customers money if NV Energy lowered their rates. After all, if NV Solar simply takes the net metered electricity at wholesale prices and then sells it to their million other customers at the current retail rate, then those customers have not saved a nickel! The PUC apparently required NV Energy to create a separate account in which to deposit this additional revenue, but I’m told it’s still unclear how/if that would be passed along to customers.

And this whole discussion is moot in any case because distributed solar has been documented to have many benefits to everyone on the grid. For instance, it reduces the need for the utility to spend money to upgrade transmission and distribution (T&D) into rapidly-growing urban and suburban areas.

Of course, that’s one of the many reasons Buffett and NV Energy don’t like rooftop solar. As a regulated monopoly, the utility can make a guaranteed profit from building new T&D — and from building its own peak power plants, whether those are natural gas or solar. They can’t make a profit on rooftop solar unless they get the PUC to force those customers to sell them that power at ridiculously low prices.

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Worse, “this is far from the only move Buffett is making against solar,” as DeSmogBlog reported last month. For instance:

In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power — a division of PacifiCorp, which is a fully-owned subsidiary of… you guessed it… Berkshire Hathaway Energy — proposed a charge for solar net metering customers similar to that which passed in Nevada. The Utah Public Service Commission voted that proposal down.

Is BHE trying to kill rooftop solar because of greed, as it appears, or to protect its customers, as Buffett claims? Well, if in fact rooftop solar were actually hurting BHE or its customers, then you’d think Buffett would say so in his shareholder letter.

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Instead, here is what Buffett writes: “To date, renewables have helped our utility operation but that could change, particularly if storage capabilities for electricity materially improve.”

Buffett elaborates on this point in the letter. He notes that because traditionally, “utilities were usually the sole supplier of a needed product and were allowed to price at a level that gave them a prescribed return upon the capital they employed,” they didn’t need to be efficient. Quite the reverse, he explains, “The joke in the industry was that a utility was the only business that would automatically earn more money by redecorating the boss’s office. And some CEOs ran things accordingly.”

Now, however, “That’s all changing.” Federal tax credits and state policies are promoting renewables through policies that “may eventually erode the economics of the incumbent utility, particularly if it is a high-cost operator.” But Buffet says there’s good news for his shareholders:

BHE’s long-established emphasis on efficiency — even when the company didn’t need it to attain authorized earnings — leaves us particularly competitive in today’s market (and, more important, in tomorrow’s as well).

In short, BHE has not seen its economics erode because of pro-renewables policies. And, he explains, that erosion is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future given how well BHE is managed.

So it would appear that BHE is going after rooftop solar simply to kill the competition — and allow it to keep all for itself the guaranteed profits from any renewables it builds, from the T&D it builds, and from the renewable tax credits the competition might have gotten. This strategy may make short-term business sense, but it invalidates any claim that Berkshire Hathaway Energy is somehow a champion of renewables.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

Nevada Solar Power Business Struggles To Keep The Lights On

by Jeff Brady (March 11, 2016) www.npr.org

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Nevada’s home solar business is in turmoil as the state’s Public Utilities Commission starts to phase out incentives for homeowners who install rooftop solar panels. Some of the largest solar companies have stopped seeking new business in the state and laid off hundreds of workers.

Even for small solar installers, this once-booming business has slowed to a trickle. The warehouse at Robco Electric in Las Vegas was filled to capacity with pallets of solar panels stacked high last year. Now, it’s nearly empty.

“The PUC made a decision and it just devastated our industry,” says Robco President Rob Kowalczik. He’s all business when talking about how the PUC sided with the utility and pretty much killed off residential solar in Nevada. But when it comes to his workers, he chokes up.

“The hardest thing is to lay people off,” says Kowalczik. So far, his company has let 25 people go. The solar division of his company is down to a few salespeople and one installation crew.

One of the 25 is Connie Berry. She was just a few months into her job as an installer for Robco. Now, she’s looking for work in the construction business, but she holds out hope her solar job will come back.

“It’s been two months now since I got laid off, and I was hoping to get a call back. … I got my tools. I’m ready to go,” says Berry.

In front of Robco Electric, you’re more likely now to see the company’s sales cars parked in the middle of the day. Sales and marketing manager Tim Webb says last year they would have been out chasing down new leads all day. He says there were a lot of other solar companies on the road, too.

“It was kind of like the solar gold rush here. All these companies flocked into town, set up an office and sold systems. Now they’re gone. There’s just a few of us remaining,” says Webb.

Companies like Solar City say they were left with no choice but to stop doing business in Nevada when the PUC changed the rules for something called “net metering.”

Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell excess electricity they generate to the utility at retail rather than wholesale rates. It’s a great deal for homeowners because they can do something good for the environment and save money on their energy bills.

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But every kilowatt generated on someone’s roof is one less the local utility sells. And utilities use that ratepayer money to maintain the electrical grid.

In this case, the local utility, NV Energy, is owned by Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. During an interview with CNBC last month, Buffett echoed an argument utilities across the country have been making: When solar customers don’t pay to maintain the power grid, that leaves everyone else to pick up the tab.

“We do not want the nonsolar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers,” Buffett said, talking about NV Energy’s customers in Nevada.

Buffett said NV Energy can produce solar power from large, centralized plants for less than it costs to buy electricity from rooftop solar customers under the old net metering rules.

“We do not want our million plus customers who do not have solar to be buying solar at 10.5 cents [per kilowatt hour] when we can churn it out for them at 4.5 cents,” he said.

SolarCity co-founder and CEO Lyndon Rive says utilities like NV Energy are just trying to protect their monopolies.

“They want to deploy the infrastructure. They do not want to let consumers deploy that infrastructure because then they don’t get a regulated rate of return on that infrastructure,” says Rive.

Rive wants big changes for the country’s power grid. Instead of central generators delivering electricity out to customers, he imagines a grid where customers produce their own power and compete with the local utility. Under Rive’s vision for the grid, there’s a smaller role — and less profit — for utilities.

“We need them to manage the lines and let the rest be a competitive market. Competition will drive innovation, which will then create products that we couldn’t even think of today,” he argues.

The big solar companies haven’t given up completely on Nevada yet. Solar City and others plan to challenge the changes to net metering, first in the courts and then with a ballot referendum in November.

In the meantime, solar customers like Dale Collier are the big losers. His home in Henderson, outside Las Vegas, has 56 solar panels on the roof. He refinanced his house to pay for them.

“I thought this was [one of] the smartest things I ever did; now I think it might be one of the stupidest things I ever did,” says Collier.

Up until the changes to net metering in Nevada, he was saving about $150 a month on his power bill. But once the incentives are phased out, he figures having solar panels will cost him money.

NV Energy asked regulators to grandfather in people like Collier. But the PUC rejected that request, saying all solar customers — new and existing — should get the same deal.

The question now is whether Nevada’s experience will spread to other states. Solar advocates successfully preserved incentives next door in California. Now they’re focused on another sunny state, Arizona, where the next battle over residential solar incentives appears to be heating up.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Solar City Pulls Out of Nevada After Passing Anti-Solar Legislation

Solar City Press Release  (Jan 06, 2016)

LAS VEGAS – Following the decision by Governor Brian Sandoval’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to terminate Nevada’s rooftop solar industry just days before Christmas, SolarCity® (NASDAQ: SCTY) announced that it has been forced to eliminate more than 550 jobs in the state. Where possible, the company will relocate affected employees to business-friendly states.

The PUC’s decision to change the rules to punish existing solar customers after the state encouraged them to go solar with rebates is particularly callous and leaves Nevadans to question whether the state would ever place the financial security of regular citizens above the financial interests of NV Energy.

“I contacted Governor Sandoval multiple times after the ruling because I am convinced that he and the PUC didn’t fully understand the consequences of this decision, not only on the thousands of local jobs distributed solar has created, but on the 17,000 Nevadans that installed solar with the state’s encouragement,” said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s CEO. “I’m still waiting to speak to the Governor but I am convinced that once he and the Commissioners understand the real impact, that they will do the right thing.”

SolarCity announced on December 23 that as a result of the PUC decision, it had to cease solar sales and installation in the state effective immediately. Other Nevada solar companies with higher cost structures than SolarCity are expected to collectively lay off thousands of additional Nevadans in the coming months.

“Telling employees they can no longer work for SolarCity is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” continued Rive. “These are hard-working Nevadans and a single government action has put them out of work. This is not how government is supposed to work.”

SolarCity has also closed a training center in West Las Vegas that it opened a little over a month ago. The November press release announcing its opening contained this statement from Governor Sandoval: “I’m proud to celebrate the opening of SolarCity’s new training center, which will make Nevada the regional hub for training workers in the jobs of the 21st century. Our homegrown solar industry has already created over 6,000 good Nevada jobs, and has tremendous potential to continue driving innovation, economic diversification, and opportunity in the Silver State.”

Fortunately, there are other voices speaking up for solar employees and customers.  The Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection is attempting to protect Nevadans by filing a motion to halt implementation of the PUC’s ruling, stating that the order’s impact “is not consistent with the Governor’s stated objectives of SB 374 or the Governor’s initiatives and focus to increase jobs and employment for Nevada residents.”

Just weeks after Congress voted with bipartisan support to extend the federal tax credit for solar, Governor Sandoval’s Commission is moving the state backwards. The Governor’s and Commission’s support for a de facto ban on rooftop solar defies public opinion, including the opinion of the members of his own party. According to a recent poll by Moore Information, 73% of registered Nevada Republicans support the state’s previous rooftop solar rules.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Nevada Solar-Law Author Concerned as Solar Companies Flee

NEVADA TAKES A GIANT STEP BACK INTO THE DARK AGES and is shocked with the outcome!

by Chris Martin (BloombergBusiness) January 11, 2016

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Patricia Farley, lead author of a bill authorizing Nevada regulators to revise state solar policies, didn’t expect the new rules to prompt two major solar companies to cut jobs and leave the state.

“I’m absolutely concerned,” Farley, a Republican state senator from Nevada’s 8th District, said in a phone interview Monday.

The legislation was passed in March, and had the blessing of the solar industry and the state’s utilities, she said. It gave the Nevada Public Utilities Commission authority to create a new class of utility customers that use solar panels to generate power. It also granted the PUC the right to increase fees for these customers’ usage of the power grid.

The commissioners in late December voted to increase a fixed monthly fee for solar customers by about 40 percent and reduced the amount customers get paid for excess power they sell to the grid. It also made these changes retroactive.

Job Cuts

The solar industry balked at the changes. SolarCity Corp. announced last week plans to fire 550 field and support staff in Nevada and Sunrun Inc. followed a day later with “hundreds” more job cuts.

“I’ll have to take a look at the numbers,” Farley said. “I have to assume that the PUC would do the right thing. People who already had solar relied on the old rate structure. They should have a remedy.”

The industry last week sought to halt the new fees and to force regulators to reconsider their decision. The PUC plans to hear the first request at a hearing in Carson City Wednesday, and solar industry supporters and workers plan to protest the new rates at a rally there and in Las Vegas.

The issue is playing out across the U.S. as surging demand for rooftop solar panels eats into utilities’ revenue. Regulators are grappling with how to balance desires for cleaner energy and customer choice with utilities that say customers who go solar aren’t paying for their use of the electric grid.

“There is significant cost-shifting with solar that needs to be addressed,” Farley said. “SolarCity and Sunrun were at the table and agreed that the best place for that is at the PUC. That’s still the case.”

SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said his company agreed to support the law because utilities were about to reach the state’s self-imposed limit on rooftop solar installations and sales would have stopped without a compromise to lift it. He expects the PUC to reconsider the ruling as the ramifications became more clear.

“We literally had a gun against our head to support it,” Rive said in an interview Monday.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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