Nevada To Vote On Measure Potentially Returning Solar Subsidies

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Residents of Nevada will vote Tuesday on a ballot measure that would potentially return solar subsidies back to the state.

The measure, referred to as Question 3, would set about ending the state’s monopolized energy markets and open them to outside competition in hopes of minimizing regulatory burdens. Approving the measure would essentially amend Nevada’s constitution to give lucrative subsidies to solar panel providers like SolarCity.

The move to end the monopoly is likely a result of a decision in 2015 by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to hike fees on homes that have solar, a move that basically kicked SolarCity out of the state.

The PUC at the time imposed rules that effectively ended net-metering, a type of tool allowing solar panel owners to sell excess energy back to the utility company. It all but forced electrical utilities to buy the energy produced by rooftop solar panels at or near retail rates.

The rule change resulted in solar panel customers getting paid substantially less for the energy their panels generate. The commission also increased the service charge customers must pay to have the panels.

The service charge for panels increased 40 percent from $12.75 to $17.90 per month in the southern part of the state and 38 percent for those in the northern section of Nevada.

One of the biggest recipients of the subsidy, SolarCity, decided to pick up its toys and leave the state shortly after the rule change, claiming the rule change affects its bottom line. PUC’s decision prompted the mega solar panel company to send hundreds of Nevadans scurrying for unemployment lines. SolarCity says it will relocate former employees.

SolarCity CEO Elon Musk ultimately pulled the trigger, making good on previous threats to drop 550 energy jobs if the PUC altered net-metering.

Several states have enacted similar policies for homeowners.

Rooftop solar companies push net metering, among other policies, as a tool to encourage the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Since the demand of and price for the electrical power fluctuates widely on any given day, net-metering is effectively a wealth transfer from public utilities to rooftop solar companies.

The Nevada initiative is battle between the utility monopoly and more competition from renewable energy.

Several other companies have joined SolarCity in supporting the Nov. 8 ballot measure. Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Las Vegas LLC, for instance, applied to leave NV Energy’s power grid last year because of PUC’s decision to scrub its net-metering policy.

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