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Nevada Court Overturns Solar Rate Hike for Existing Customers

Legal case protects existing solar customers, leaves Nevada’s solar future uncertain
Solar panels at the Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.

Solar panels at the Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.

Black Rock Solar / CC BY 2.0
September 14, 2016
Carson City, NV —

On Tuesday, in Vote Solar vs. the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), the Nevada State District Court for Carson City agreed with Vote Solar and ruled that a PUCN decision to hike rates on existing solar customers earlier this year were made through an unlawful process that left existing solar customers with inadequate notice and did not satisfy the due process clause of the Nevada Constitution. Earthjustice and Vote Solar led the appeal of the PUCN decision in order to restore consumer solar options, jobs, and health benefits to Nevada communities.

Map of Nevada.
The court’s decision forces the PUCN to protect the consumer investments that have already been made in solar energy; however, it does not go so far as to preserve solar options for new customers in the state.

The PUCN’s decision had raised fees and significantly reduced the rate at which solar customers are credited for their valuable excess power. This rule change adversely impacted future customers as well as the thousands of Nevadans who had already invested their own dollars in local solar power. The court’s decision forces the PUCN to protect the consumer investments that have already been made in solar energy; however, it does not go so far as to preserve solar options for new customers in the state.

"This court decision is a win for existing solar customers, although there’s still plenty of work left to be done to bring solar choice and solar jobs back to Nevada," said Jessica Scott, Interior West Regional Director for Vote Solar. "The court rightly ruled that the PUCN unfairly changed the rules of the game on existing solar customers without due notice. We believe we had a strong legal case for reversing the decision for future solar customers as well and would have appreciated the opportunity to better make that case through oral arguments, which we were not allowed in this case."

"We respectfully thank the court for protecting the interests of Nevada consumers who had invested in solar under one set of rules, only to then be unexpectedly hit with this discriminatory rate hike," Earthjustice attorney Sara Gersen said. "We want everyone to have a real opportunity to go solar and will continue to pursue all options for putting clean energy back within reach for those Nevadans who haven’t yet gone solar but aspire to one day."

Since 1997, Nevadans have participated in a program called net metering, under which customers earn a kilowatt-hour bill credit for each kilowatt-hour of clean power they supply for their neighbors to use. The PUCN’s decision ended net metering for Nevada’s homes and small businesses and replaced it with a new system that values customers’ clean energy at lower rates.

The Vote Solar and Earthjustice lawsuit challenged the legality of three aspects of the PUCN decision: that it was inconsistent with Nevada state statute, which requires that utilities offer net metering to solar customers; that the analysis that the PUCN used to determine new rates openly lacked sufficient evidence; and that the PUCN violated existing solar customers’ Constitutional due process rights by transferring them to a new tariff without adequate notice. The Court ruled in Vote Solar’s favor on the last of those three points, requiring the PUCN to reconsider its decision to change the rules for existing solar customers.

Shared interests include Nevadans for Clean Affordable Energy (NCARE), Great Basin Solar Coalition, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). A poll recently released by RenewNV—a coalition of concerned citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations including Vote Solar—found that an overwhelming 82% of Nevadans also support reversing the PUCN decision on net metering.

Read the decision.

Contacts

Alyssa Ritterstein, Press Secretary, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5243

Zadie Oleksiw, Communications Manager, Vote Solar, (202) 836-5754