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Nevada Supreme Court to decide future of net metering ballot question

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jul 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-29 21:29:14-04

Nevada's state Supreme Court heard arguments Friday on whether or not a referendum seeking to restore favorable electricity rates for rooftop solar customers can be placed on the November ballot.

Lawyers for groups tied to NV Energy and SolarCity argued before the state’s highest court as to whether the written referendum should qualify for the ballot, and whether or not its description was accurate enough to pass legal muster.

The seven justices took no immediate action on the appeal, but a decision is expected soon in order to avoid delaying the printing of ballots for the upcoming election.

Reversing the lower court’s decision could have major implications — voters could effectively be able to decide whether or not to return to the more beneficial net metering rates enjoyed by rooftop solar customers before being slashed by state energy regulators.

Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission decided to cut rates for net metering participants last year over concerns that program was being heavily subsidized by other ratepayers. This led to mass protests, and several solar installers leaving the state or severely scaling back operations.

Kevin Benson, an attorney representing the SolarCity-backed No Solar Tax PAC, argued that the justices should overturn an earlier district court decision disqualifying the referendum on grounds that it too narrowly defined the grounds of what could and could not be brought up for potential overturn through the ballot

“People are entitled to repeal what the legislature can repeal,” he said.

Attorney Robert Eisenberg argued on behalf of Citizens for Solar Energy Fairness, and said allowing a referendum that only asked voters to weigh in on part of it was much too broad and could lead to “absurd” situations.

Eisenberg said the proposed language was such a departure from the intent of the law that it should have been filed as an initiative petition, which takes longer to approve by voters.

He also took issue with the “Description of Effect” submitted by referendum backers, saying it inaccurately described what the proposal would actually do.

“It’s not just ambiguous,” he said. “It’s affirmatively misleading.”

Bensen said the language accurately described the goal of the measure, which is to only repeal parts of the law giving the PUC authority to set net metering rates.

No Solar Tax PAC, which is bankrolled by rooftop solar installer SolarCity, filed for a referendum in January to nullify part of a newly-approved state law changing the structure of net metering — a state program reimbursing rooftop solar owners for excess energy produced, generally at the retail rate of electricity.

But a Carson City judge in March moved to disqualify the measure, saying it more accurately should have filed as an initiative petition because it only repealed part of state law giving the Public Utilities Commission the ability to set rates for net metering customers.

115,000 voters have signed on to support the referendum, according to the group.