What is next for rooftop solar advocates?

While other states have been debating the advantages and disadvantages of net metering for several years, Nevada has been on a fast track toward some sort of resolution since SB374 was signed by the Gov. Brian Sandoval on June 5. Under that bill, the State of Nevada Public Utilities Commission was given the directive to find an alternative to net metering by Dec. 31.

So it should not have been a surprise when a chartered bus carrying employees of Solar City showed up at the PUCN’s annual “General Consumer Session” on Sept. 22, wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with “We Are Solar” across the front. During the two two-hour sessions, more than 50 very passionate people stepped up to the microphone to express their concerns. And even though the session was open to comments about all of the utilities regulated by the PUCN (electric, gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications), nearly all of the comments were about rooftop solar systems.

Yet, even though the PUCN has been directed to find an alternative to net metering, most of the speakers were residents already in the program or waiting for their installation to be completed and requesting that the current net metering program remain intact. Many of the other speakers were employees of solar installation companies pleading for their jobs and livelihood.

What is next?

The final decision on the rooftop solar issue will be made by the PUCN’s commissioners, and can only be based on evidence that is presented by the official parties — called intervenors — in the case. That means the public’s pleas and comments, which were duly recorded and will reside in some file in Carson City, will in all likelihood not have much impact on the outcome.

On July 31, NV Energy filed an application for approval of a cost-of-service study and Net Energy Metering tariffs. And on August 4, the Stat of Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection filed a Notice of Intent to Intervene, meaning that they want to be a voice for the consumer on the setting of the new rooftop solar standard.

Since those two filings, 11 other petitions to intervene have been filed by groups such as the Sierra Club, Alliance for Solar Choice, Nevadans for Clean Affordable Reliable Energy; and some individual companies such as Bombard Renewable Energy.

However, there is another party that has a say in all cases before the PUCN. That party is the Regulatory Operations Staff of the PUCN. This staff operates separately from the commissioners and includes the director of regulatory operations, staff counsel, resource and market analysts, financial analysts, engineers, and consumer complaint resolution specialists. And, it is under the staff’s recommendation to the commission that all of those pleas of passion by the general public can be taken into consideration.

All “prepared direct testimony” by the staff and the intervenors must be filed with the commission by 2 p.m. on Oct. 27 p.m.

By Nov. 10, at 2:00 pm, NV Energy’s subsidiaries of Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power Co. must file their “prepared rebuttal testimony.”

The formal hearing on the matter before PUCN commission will begin on Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. and time has been allotted for continuation through Nov. 20, if necessary.

It is clear that the PUCN has a difficult decision to make. And, if each of the 11 intervenors and the staff submit their own individual plans, there will be a mountain of evidence to wade through before the Dec. 31 deadline. If on the other hand, the intervenors join together to present one viable option that takes into consideration the needs of NV Energy, as well as the owners of rooftop solar, the hearing could be quite short and the ruling simple.

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