Sunrun Joins Nevada Solar Exodus in Response to Utility Fees

  • Company says departure from state to cost `hundreds' of jobs
  • `The state switched the rules,' Sunrun executive says

Residential solar installer Sunrun Inc. said it’s ceasing operations in Nevada, the second company in as many days to cut jobs in the state after regulators imposed new fees on rooftop systems.

The company’s exit will result in “hundreds of job losses” and the local installers it works with will be forced to fire people or close shop entirely, Sunrun said in a statement Thursday. Industry leader SolarCity Corp. is also ceasing operations in Nevada and said Wednesday the move would cost about 550 jobs.

State and federal programs that promote wider use of clean energy have helped make rooftop systems the fastest-growing part of the solar market. That’s led to friction between companies that install and operate them, and utilities that view them as a threat to revenue. Some traditional power companies have asked regulators to revise the programs.

“Nevada passed incentives to attract residents to go solar,” Bryan Miller, senior vice president of public policy and power markets at San Francisco-based Sunrun, said in an interview. “But after baiting thousands of homeowners with incentives, the state switched the rules.”

Retroactive Changes

Sunrun and SolarCity have joined industry and environmental groups in challenging solar policies that became effective in Nevada Jan. 1. State utility regulators last month approved a higher monthly service fee and cut credits for homes and businesses that generate solar power, applying the changes retroactively to more than 16,000 consumers.

Utilities owned by NV Energy, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., sought the new fees to offset revenue that’s declining as more customers produce their own energy and buy less.

“This is all on Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway,” Miller said. Calls and e-mails to NV Energy weren’t returned.

“A lot of people with solar in Nevada haven’t been paying attention to the issue yet,” Jessica Scott, a regional manager for industry advocate Vote Solar. “They’ll get more involved when they see their bills go up. It’s already happening.”

Review Process

Vote Solar plans to request a rehearing on the ruling Friday, and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission will have 40 days to respond. A separate petition to stay the rate increases during the process is scheduled to be heard by a commissioner Thursday, and a full commission vote is set for Jan. 13. If the policies remain in place, the companies and industry groups plan to seek judicial review.

Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, in a statement released Wednesday after SolarCity’s announcement, said the solar company should “respect the process” allowing for the policy to be reviewed.

“I will continue to support the renewable energy industry in Nevada and capitalize on our state’s incredible resources for solar, wind, and geothermal power,” Sandoval said, and he pledged to assist SolarCity employees that are losing their jobs.

“The governor says he supports solar,” Miller said. “The ball is in his court now.”

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