Lawmakers vet bill addressing fight between solar, NV Energy

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday on a much-lobbied bill that aims to resolve a fight between rapidly growing rooftop solar installation companies and NV Energy.

The Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee discussed SB374, which deals with net metering — the policy that allows people with solar installations at their homes to send excess energy their system produces back to the utility company in exchange for a power bill credit. Nevada has a 3 percent cap on the amount of net metering participants, and solar advocates said the nearly 6,000 Nevada jobs in the solar industry could evaporate if nothing is done to lift that cap.

NV Energy said the policy could subsidize solar users at the expense of traditional customers and wanted to keep the cap in place.

After lengthy negotiations, lawmakers presented the compromise bill, which would push the issue off the Legislature's plate and into the jurisdiction of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. The commission, which approves electricity rates, would decide by the end of the year on a tariff that solar customers would pay to ensure there's no unfair cost shift, thus eliminating the need for a cap.

An interim tariff rate would be set after NV Energy studies the costs of serving net metering customers, and that rate could kick in as early as September if Nevada hits the solar cap before the end of the year, when the final rate is set.

NV Energy supported the bill, as did officials from the governor's energy office and the attorney general's office.

"We did not want the industry to come to a screeching halt when the 3 percent cap was met, and we believe that Senate Bill 374 allows the commission to make sure that doesn't happen," said Dan Jacobsen of the attorney general's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We think it's a good way to move forward."

Representatives from rooftop solar companies, including Solar City CEO Lyndon Rive, testified that they were mostly in favor of the bill. But Rive said his company didn't like the idea of adopting an interim tariff rate and then a permanent one because the switch would bring more uncertainty for solar businesses and customers.

The committee took no action on the bill on Wednesday, which was the first time the net metering policy has been publicly vetted at a legislative committee hearing this session. The issue has been simmering for weeks, with solar advocates organizing large protests in Las Vegas and bombarding lawmakers with email pleas to lift the solar cap.

SB374 passed the Senate on Sunday, and Democratic Sen. Kelvin Atkinson said he expects the issue to be resolved within the remaining two weeks of the legislative session.

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