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Governor weighs in on solar flare-up

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jan 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-08 14:52:53-05

Jobs lost. Consumers crying foul. Their fate is in the hands of three people. 

Chief Investigator Darcy Spears tracks down the man who gave those public utility commissioners their jobs.

The three members of the Public Utility Commission are at the center of a solar firestorm. 

Who put them in charge? Governor Brian Sandoval.

We tracked the governor down at CES where the future of technology is on display. 

We wanted to know his thoughts about the future of Nevada's solar industry, which appears to be on the verge of collapse.

Sandoval says he's very concerned about and working to help the solar employees losing their jobs, but adds, "I'm not taking sides in this case."

The sides are roof-top solar customers, solar businesses, NV energy, and the PUC itself.

Darcy Spears: You're a champion of business. Nevada wants to be a business-forward state. We're considered the Saudi Arabia of the sun when it comes to our ability to make great strides in the solar industry, but this seems to be slamming the door on that.

Gov. Sandoval: I don't think so. There's no bigger champion of rooftop solar and renewable energy than me.

So how can he stand-by and watch his appointees engineer the industry's demise?

"Certainly they're my appointees, but it's very important to emphasize they're an independent board. They're a quasi-judicial board. It would be improper and perhaps illegal for me to interfere with their process.  But we need to back up. This whole thing is the result of a bill that I signed with the support of the solar industry."

A bill directing the PUC to review rates and ensure equity between solar and non-solar consumers.

"There's a very important balance here," Sandoval said. "You have 17,000 rooftop solar customers. You have 700,000, approximately, NV energy customers who are essentially subsidizing that."

"That is absolute hogwash!" said Scott Shaw of go solar. "That is part of the propaganda that's out there. The misnomers of pitting one rate class against another."

Darcy Spears: What are the dollars and cents? How does this actually break down? Does it really impact the non-solar customer in a big way? 

No one seems to be able to give us that dollars and cents answer.

Gov. Sandoval: Right. And I think that, again, it's a very, very complicated math problem.

Sandoval admits he hasn't done the math.

NV Energy says it boils down to $1.08 per month that non-solar customers in Southern Nevada are paying to subsidize their solar neighbors.

NV Energy provided the following statement:

Senate Bill 374 is the negotiated compromise that all stakeholders, including Solar City, TASC, Sunrun and other members of the rooftop solar industry, supported and agreed was necessary to provide a sustainable future for rooftop solar in Nevada. The new net metering rate structure established by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, in keeping with the statutory directive of Senate Bill 374, fairly allocates the costs of providing electric service among all customers. In doing so, it eliminates the net metering cap that limited the number of rooftop solar projects.  The new rate structure, which will be phased in over a five year period, results in no additional profit to NV Energy.

NV Energy is committed to providing stable, if not lower, rates for all our customers. On January 1, NV Energy lowered rates for the third time in a year and we will continue to seek opportunities to lower our costs and pass those savings on to our customers.

-- NV Energy

So what about solar customers who have contracts with locked in rates? 

Sandoval says anyone who's unhappy with the PUC's final decision can appeal it to a District Court and ultimately the Nevada Supreme Court.