Nevada Solar-Law Author Concerned as Solar Companies Flee

  • SolarCity, Sunrun halted sales and fired staff in state
  • Nevada utility regulators used law to increase solar charges

Patricia Farley, lead author of a bill authorizing Nevada regulators to revise state solar policies, didn’t expect the new rules to prompt two major solar companies to cut jobs and leave the state.

“I’m absolutely concerned,” Farley, a Republican state senator from Nevada’s 8th District, said in a phone interview Monday.

The legislation was passed in March, and had the blessing of the solar industry and the state’s utilities, she said. It gave the Nevada Public Utilities Commission authority to create a new class of utility customers that use solar panels to generate power. It also granted the PUC the right to increase fees for these customers’ usage of the power grid.

The commissioners in late December voted to increase a fixed monthly fee for solar customers by about 40 percent and reduced the amount customers get paid for excess power they sell to the grid. It also made these changes retroactive.

Job Cuts

The solar industry balked at the changes. SolarCity Corp. announced last week plans to fire 550 field and support staff in Nevada and Sunrun Inc. followed a day later with “hundreds” more job cuts.

“I’ll have to take a look at the numbers,” Farley said. “I have to assume that the PUC would do the right thing. People who already had solar relied on the old rate structure. They should have a remedy.”

The industry last week sought to halt the new fees and to force regulators to reconsider their decision. The PUC plans to hear the first request at a hearing in Carson City Wednesday, and solar industry supporters and workers plan to protest the new rates at a rally there and in Las Vegas.

The issue is playing out across the U.S. as surging demand for rooftop solar panels eats into utilities’ revenue. Regulators are grappling with how to balance desires for cleaner energy and customer choice with utilities that say customers who go solar aren’t paying for their use of the electric grid.

“There is significant cost-shifting with solar that needs to be addressed,” Farley said. “SolarCity and Sunrun were at the table and agreed that the best place for that is at the PUC. That’s still the case.”

SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said his company agreed to support the law because utilities were about to reach the state’s self-imposed limit on rooftop solar installations and sales would have stopped without a compromise to lift it. He expects the PUC to reconsider the ruling as the ramifications became more clear.

“We literally had a gun against our head to support it,” Rive said in an interview Monday.