If there is one canard that refuses to die, it is the allegation that net-metered solar is imposing undue costs on other utility customers. While this has been disproven in studies commissioned by regulators and legislatures across the United States, utilities continue to use the Bernays-worthy tactic of repeating this bogus line.
Yesterday Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), exactly one year after dismantling net metering in the service territory of utility Nevada Power, admitted that there is no cost shift in the territory of Sierra Pacific Power in Northern Nevada as its prime reason for reinstating net metering in the utility’s service area. According to the draft decision on the PUCN site:
Indeed, through this Order the average residential customer in Northern Nevada may expect a _decrease_ of approximately $0.01 (one cent) per month on monthly utility bills and the average small commercial customer may expect a _decrease_ of approximately $0.43 (forty-three cents) per month on their average utility bill.
Additionally, PUCN has imposed a cap of 6 MW on the program. The practical impacts of this is that 1,000-1,500 more customers in Northern Nevada will be able to install solar PV under net metering, with the program to re-start on January 1.
This is a pittance compared to the damage done by PUCN in its severe dismantling of the policy in the territory of Nevada Power in Southern Nevada, which has the large majority of the state’s population. The Commission was careful to warn that this ruling would not reverse its other policies.
“This decision is fact-specific and is not to serve as binding precedent upon future rate cases, including those in Southern Nevada,” reads the draft order.
Part of the reason for the change in attitude may be a change in composition of the commission. The new chairman of PUCN, Joe Reynolds, was appointed by Nevada Governor Sandoval (R) to replace former Chair David Noble, who oversaw the destruction of net metering in December 2015.
And while not changing it, the new PUCN has even gone so far as to admit that the body’s past decision on net metering was a mistake.
Abraham Lincoln once said that “[b]ad promises are better broken than kept.” The PUCN’s prior decisions on NEM [Net Energy Metering], in several respects, may be best viewed as a promise better left unkept. The PUCN is free to apply a new approach.
However, in line with national studies on this issue, PUCN notes that the value of solar is dependent upon factors which change over time.
The PUCN finds that reaching the remaining issues raised by the Parties in this case regarding the valuation of NEM rooftop solar in Nevada is premature. Like gasoline or milk, the value of NEM rooftop solar energy in Nevada is not static – it is subject to change.
SolarCity has praised the decision. “I commend the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada for bringing full retail net metering back to Northern Nevada, and affirming that whether solar customers are providing clean solar energy for their own homes, or supplying it to their neighbors, the benefits of that local generation outweigh the costs,” stated SolarCity Chief Policy Officer Jon Wellinghoff.
Correction: This article was corrected at 1 PM EST on December 23. The original article stated that the cap had been raised to 6 MW; instead there previously had been no cap and net metering was reinstated with a new cap. We have changed the necessary language and we regret the error.