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How Nevada got its (solar) groove back

Happy jumping silhouette person

In late December, 2015, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) shocked the solar industry and solar owners by announcing the end of net metering for rooftop solar. At the time, we called it INSANITY.

The decision meant people didn’t get full credit for the energy their panels sent to the grid. On top of that, extra fees were added to the electric bills of solar owners. The ruling destroyed the economic benefit of rooftop solar, affecting every owner of a rooftop system whether they installed it ten years or one day before the ruling took effect.

But now, over a year later, Nevada’s state legislators have passed a bill to reinstate net metering for all home solar customers, guaranteeing those rates for the next 20 years. The decision will bring back thousands of jobs to the state and set up a new, vibrant solar marketplace.

This is a victory for the people of Nevada. The little guy and gal fought from the streets to the ballot box, and with help from solar advocacy groups and big business, they won.

Here’s the rest of the story:

Immediate Impact

Within days of the December, 2015 PUCN decision, multiple national solar companies stopped selling solar and moved out of the state entirely, cutting thousands of jobs in the process.

Then, people started banding together. Groups like The Nevada Solar Owners Association, Bring Back Solar, and Vote Solar got involved and got to work.

Within three weeks of the initial decision, there were massive protests in Las Vegas. Clean energy activist and wholesome movie star Mark Ruffalo was on hand to fire up the crowd and testify before the Public Utilities Commission in support of rooftop solar.

Mark Ruffalo on the bullhorn, firing up Nevada solar advocates

It didn’t work.

But then, after those groups kept the pressure on and politicians started to realize how they might lose their jobs over this, it did.

Nevada solar battles in 2016

In February, Governor Brian Sandoval convened a meeting of the state’s New Energy Task Force, directing the group to provide recommendations “on ways to promote the development of renewable energy and distributed energy resources in Nevada.” At the end of May, the Task Force came back with recommendations that included “grandfathering” people who installed solar systems before 2016 into the previous net metering rules, among other things.

In September, the PUCN unanimously approved such a grandfathering provision. The ruling arose from an agreement between the Bureau of Consumer Protection, SolarCity, and Nevada’s main utility company, NV Energy.

But the fight wasn’t over.

In August of 2016, a ballot measure that would have let voters decide whether to repeal the extra fees imposed on solar owners had been approved for and subsequently taken off the November ballot (for having imprecise language).

But the November election saw Democrats sweep into power in both houses of Nevada’s legislature, opening up the possibility of new laws regarding net metering. And Governor Sandoval said he wanted to work to

New solar legislation in 2017

sunrise blue sky

When the state’s legislative bodies convened in February, 2017, they hit the ground running. Running toward the sun, that is.

A number of laws concerning renewable energy were introduced by lawmakers, and four important ones have now passed and are ready for Governor Sandoval’s signature:

  • AB 405 – Restores net metering for homeowners who go solar, provides a solar “bill of rights” that protects consumers who are considering solar from shady practices
  • AB 206 – A new Renewable Portfolio Standard that sets a target of 40% of Nevada’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2030.
  • SB 392 – Establishes guidelines for a community solar program, including provisions allowing up to $1 million in incentives for low-income solar projects
  • SB 145 – Establishes incentives for utility customers to install energy storage (batteries) to take full advantage of solar generation

Governor Sandoval has already signed SB 145, and is expected to sign AB 405 and SB 392. AB 206 is the only bill for which a signature is uncertain. But the writing is on the wall. When faced with the death of solar in a state, the people have spoken.

What happens next?

If Governor Sandoval signs all these bills, the state will experience a resurgent solar marketplace. Solar companies will hire (or re-hire) thousands of employees, and began sales operations again.

And the outlook for solar’s financial returns will improve dramatically. Here’s the difference in our solar report card for Nevada if the new laws all pass:

Nevada solar report card for 2017

Currently: Overall Grade: C with lousy 15-year payback time

Updated Nevada Solar Report Card for 2017

New and improved: Overall Grade: B with decent 11-year payback time

We won!

Following the passage of AB 405, Sunrun, Vivint, and Tesla announced they would re-enter the Nevada solar marketplace, bringing thousands of jobs back to Nevada.

From now on, homeowners in Nevada will have net metering for at least 20 years to ensure that the purchase of a solar energy system will earn good returns over time while providing them with clean energy.

Here’s how you can win, too:

Nevada provides a blueprint for future solar victories. Here’s a quick guide to what works:

  • Get the word out – Draw attention to your state’s battle for fairness. Partner with Vote Solar, The Alliance for Solar Choice, and other organizations that can help gather people power.
  • Take the power back – Giving the power to decide net metering rules to state Public Utilities Commissions means you often end up with a few appointed officials with strong industry ties who don’t have to answer to voters. PUC members are often pulled straight from the utility company boardroom, so there’s often a direct line of communication between them and the companies they regulate. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case with citizen advocacy groups. A better way is to inspire the state legislature to take action, then vote for state-level candidates who support solar power for the people they serve.
  • Vote for solar-friendly candidates – They’re out there, and they exist in both major political parties (and some small ones, too!) If your legislator hasn’t made public statements on rooftop solar power, encourage them to formulate a solar-friendly position and come out strongly in favor of helping homeowners go solar.
  • Make partnerships – A key to victory in Nevada was the partnerships between solar advocacy groups, citizen-led groups, and solar business organizations. You need all three to make a full-court press and get good laws passed.
  • Introduce legislation – Now you’ve got the smart legislators and you’ve got the power of partnership. Make the laws happen! Good renewable portfolio standards and net metering rules can be found in states all over the country. Using those as a starting point, craft smart legislation that protects homeowners and gives home solar a chance to thrive!

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