Ironically, one of the darkest spots for solar power in the U.S. is in one of the sunniest states—Nevada. Late in 2015 the Public Utilities Commission decided to drastically cut net-metering to residential solar customers and raise fees on them. Not just over time but immediately and retroactively. Solar installers fought the proposed rules tooth and nail but to no avail. Now solar installers and financiers like SolarCity and Sunrun are responding with their own knee jerk reaction by pulling out quickly. Both actions mean thousands of Nevadans will lose jobs.
The PUC’s Dec. 23 ruling increased the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers at the same time it began reducing the amount that solar customers with net-metered systems would be compensated for for the power they put back on the grid. But it’s not just changing the rates for future customers. It’s changing the rates for customers who signed multi-year contracts or secured loans based on the expected pay-back period. Over the next four years net-metering rates will be reduced from the retail rate to the wholesale rate in the state.
Yesterday SolarCity said will eliminate more than 550 jobs in the Nevada. In doing so, Lyndon Rive, SolarCity CEO said: "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.” He added, "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.”
"Telling employees they can no longer work for SolarCity is the hardest thing we've ever done,” Rive said. "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 said it will relocate affected employees to more solar industry-friendly states when it can. “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,” SolarCity said.
Similarly Sunrun said it is ceasing all operations in the state. It said the decision is "The direct result of new rules adopted by Governor Sandoval's Public Utilities Commission (PUC) as well as actions taken by NV Energy and Nevada politicians." The company said it will eliminate hundreds of jobs in the state as will its installer partners.
But it’s not just the solar companies that are upset with the decision. The Las Vegas Review Journal wrote a sharply worded response to the action. “We have an NV Energy power line on our property. But we've never sent NV Energy a bill with the expectation that they pay us for the use of our property,” the newspaper said. “We also produce our own power and, during mild-temperature months, we receive credits from NV Energy that we use during the cold winters and hot summers. So we never expected that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada would be given the power to bill us for the energy we contribute back to the grid.”
The newspaper added: “Let’s review the facts: two days before Christmas, the PUC effectively wiped out Nevadans' ability to produce their own power through low-cost, rooftop solar panels.” It added, “But it gets worse. The PUC didn't just ruin future solar customer's ability to produce their own power; the commission also took that ability away from more than 12,000 Nevadans whom the PUC had encouraged to go solar over the past several years. It was an outlandish bait-and-switch from a public agency that is supposed to protect ratepayers, not rip them off.”
The PUC’s decision will also effect SolarCity’s training plans. It had opened a training facility in the state last year. At that time Gov. Sandoval said: "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.”
Those jobs will now likely be gone or at-risk because of the blows to the solar industry created by the PUC’s decision. Already there are numerous efforts to change the decision, including legislation and actions being at the Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection.Tweet