Nevada's Solar Power Fees Draw Ire of Silicon Valley Investors

  • Draper Fisher, DBL Partners seek reversal of new charges
  • Rooftop solar developers SolarCity, Sunrun cut Nevada staff

A group of 18 venture capital investors are pressuring Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to reverse new fees on solar homes that state utility regulators made effective on Jan. 1.

Keeping the charges in place will quickly curtail development of solar energy in the state and threaten future investment, the investors, including John Fisher at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Nancy Pfund at DBL Partners, said in a letter to David Noble, a commissioner at the Nevada Public Utilities Commission that was shared with the governor and top lawmakers.

“This is already creating a chilling effect in the investor community,” the investors, mainly based in California’s Silicon Valley, wrote in the letter. “And will force us to reconsider future commitments of capital in the state.”

The commission in late December voted to increase a fixed monthly fee for solar customers by about 40 percent and reduce the amount customers get paid for excess power they sell to the grid. It also made these changes retroactive. Berkshire Hathaway’s NV Energy Inc., which owns Nevada’s two biggest utilities, sought the charges to offset revenue lost as solar-powered customers buy less power.

Job Cuts

The solar industry responded by laying off workers and appealing for reconsideration. 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.

The regulators scheduled a hearing on the charges for Wednesday, and the solar industry plans to protest the new fees at rallies in both Las Vegas and Carson City, the state capitol.

Changing the rules so existing solar customers don’t get harmed will help restore some confidence in Nevada, but not enough to bring back the industry, Pfund said in an interview Tuesday.

“That has to be fixed, but that alone won’t bring back the jobs,” Pfund said. “The governor needs to find some compromise that both the utility and solar industry can live with.”

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