Nevada legislature boosts clean energy, bringing back rooftop solar companies

The move was part of a suite of clean energy initiatives.

Real estate experts Drew Scott, left, and Jonathan Scott, center, stars of the HGTV show The Property Brothers and solar enthusiasts, help install Sunrun solar panels, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, on their newly renovated “smart home” in Las Vegas. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Harrington, Sunrun
Real estate experts Drew Scott, left, and Jonathan Scott, center, stars of the HGTV show The Property Brothers and solar enthusiasts, help install Sunrun solar panels, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, on their newly renovated “smart home” in Las Vegas. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Harrington, Sunrun

The Nevada legislature has decided to right a wrong against the solar industry — and solar companies are eager to get back to business in the state.

The state assembly and senate passed a bill this week, widely expected to be signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), that allows solar customers to be paid for electricity they put on the grid at nearly retail rate. The bill comes 18 months after the state’s electricity regulators gutted the popular net metering program.

Just before Christmas in 2015, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to stop letting solar customers get full retail rate for electricity they put onto the grid. Instead, customers would be paid wholesale rate, as though they were power companies. (Ironically, the Nevada PUC had previously issued a report finding, even under net metering, rooftop solar customers are a net benefit to the grid.)

The move was a massive blow to the state’s solar industry. Sunrun, a popular residential installer, moved out entirely. And while utility-scale solar continued apace — Nevada has been fourth in the nation for installed solar capacity the past two years— the residential market tanked. Jobs for solar installations fell by a third, with 2,500 fewer solar installation jobs from 2015 to 2016.

Both Tesla, which owns SolarCity, and Sunrun applauded the news Monday, saying they would reenter the Nevada market.

“This legislation, which is supported by businesses and consumers alike, will not only bring back solar energy to Nevada and enable the industry to innovate and grow sustainably, it will create thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Under the new law, rooftop solar customers will be reimbursed for excess generation at 95 percent of the retail electricity rate. As more solar is installed, the rate will fall, but it stops at 75 percent.

“This bill is a compromise that doesn’t fully value the benefits of distributed solar,” Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs, said in a statement. “It will, however, allow Nevada consumers and small businesses that may have wanted to go solar, but found it uneconomic under the existing solar policies, to now proceed.”

The bill also prevents solar customers and energy storage customers from being put in a separate rate class, and it ensures that if the state deregulates the electricity market, the nearly net-metering policy will continue. Gallagher said it “provides important consumer protections, ensuring that solar customers aren’t placed in discriminatory rate classes and giving customers 20 years of certainty when they sign up to go solar.”

The bill was just one piece of clean energy legislation passed as the session came to a close Monday. Also this week, the Nevada legislature voted to create a community solar program and to raise the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to get a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources, to 40 percent by 2030. Sandoval is expected to sign both of those bills into law, as well.

The move comes amid a complete reversal of federal action to spur the growth of clean energy and address climate change. President Donald Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from Paris climate agreement and directed EPA chief Scott Pruitt to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s landmark effort to decrease emissions from the electricity sector. States have emerged as bulwarks against a complete disintegration of the country’s climate actions.