Update: Friday, 1:00 p.m.
An Assembly committee on Friday overwhelmingly approved the amended version of AB405, aimed at restoring favorable net metering rates for rooftop solar customers.
Legislators on the Assembly Commerce and Labor committee voted 12-2 to approve the bill, with Democrats Maggie Carlton and Skip Daly voting against the measure.
Republican Assembly leader Paul Anderson said he supported moving the bill out of committee, but hoped that legislators could continue discussing the specific percentages in the tiered reimbursement structure, as well as assessing how the bill would be affected if the state switches over to an open energy market.
The bill now moves to the floor of the Assembly.
With most of the pieces in place, state legislators are set to start pushing a measure designed to kickstart the state’s moribund rooftop solar industry.
Members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor committee plan to vote Friday on AB405, after legislators crafted an amendment reinstating favorable net metering rates — the credit received by rooftop solar customers in return for excess energy they “sell” back to the grid.
The amended language, which was described to The Nevada Independent last week and provided to a reporter ahead of the Friday vote, essentially merges in a new tiered reimbursement rate for rooftop solar customers tied to the retail rate of electricity that’s based on the overall penetration of rooftop solar in the state. Previous net metering rates reimbursed rooftop solar owners for the full retail price, until the state’s Public Utilities Commission slashed the rate under direction from the 2015 Legislature and kicked off a year’s worth of controversy.
The new “Net Metering Adjustment Charge” would immediately reimburse excess solar credits at 95 percent of the retail rate, and at that rate up to 6 percent of historic peak electricity load — set at approximately 8,000 megawatts in the bill and in 2016. Historic load refers to the point in time where energy needs in the state peaked at their highest during a calendar year.
Current installed capacity of rooftop solar is slightly higher than 2 percent.
The remaining tiers would be set at the following rates:
- 90 percent between six to eight percent of historic peak load
- 85 percent between eight to 10 percent of historic peak load
- 80 percent over 10 percent of historic peak load
It also establishes that solar customers will be able to receive the rate at whichever tier is active when they opt in to the net metering program, which will run for 20 years or the life of the system, whichever is greater. Additionally, the bill requires legislators to review the reimbursement rate hits the final tier to review the rates and determine whether a different rate design or reimbursement rate is necessary to best merge existing net metering customers with the needs of the grid and electricity market as a whole.
The bill also includes multiple consumer protection provisions that already are in the existing version of AB405, including a “solar bill of rights” for all Nevadans. It also requires every solar installation company to provide a cover page detailing information such as costs and timelines of installation, warranty information and other pertinent customer information.
It also establishes minimum requirements for rooftop solar warranties that covers no less than 10 years, and requires the documents be available in Spanish.
Democratic Assemblyman Chris Brooks, the original sponsor of the bill, said he believed the bill struck an appropriate balance, meeting the needs of the rooftop solar industry without harming other ratepayers in the marketplace.
“When we say it’s a compromise, it’s because we took a look at this from a policy standpoint and said ‘What can we do as a legislature that create an environment where potential solar customers can have a good deal, and the solar industry is successful, but doesn’t cause any harm to ratepayers’,” he said.
Republican Assembly leader Paul Anderson said he was close to being able to support the bill, but that there were a few remaining questions including the retail rates and how it would work in a retail energy market assuming Question 3 passes again in 2018.
“We sort of feel like that open market scenario is inevitable, and we’ve got to make sure that somebody’s going to be liable for that, and who it’s going to be,” he said.
Solar companies are lining up in support of the bill, and industry group The Alliance for Solar Choice has started an email and social media campaign encouraging people to contact their legislator and ask them to support the bill.
Sunrun, a leading rooftop solar installer that left the state in 2016 and is a member of the Alliance for Solar Choice, said it’s on board with the current version of the bill.
“We've had numerous positive meetings with legislators, and from recent conversations, we're optimistic that AB 405 will move forward,” Sunrun executive Alex McDonough said in a statement.
The pro-rooftop solar nonprofit Vote Solar also supports the bill.
"Nevadans are demanding a legislative solution that restores a vibrant, stable rooftop solar market that works for the entire industry,” Jessica Scott, the group’s Western Director, said in a statement. “AB405 is a step toward that goal and Vote Solar looks forward to working with bill sponsors and industry to answer Nevadans call for action."
A spokeswoman for NV Energy said the utility isn’t taking a position on the bill at this time.
Sean Gallagher, a lobbyist for the Solar Energy Industries Association, called the bill a compromise and said it wouldn’t necessarily lead to an overnight solar gold rush in the state.
“I don’t think anyone likes boom and bust cycles,” he said. “What we want to establish is a sustainable rate structure that’s fair to customers, fair to the utility and provides fair opportunity to our members to do business. We have tried to strike a compromise that will allow our companies to get back to work.”
Gallagher declined to say whether solar companies, who flooded the halls of the legislature in 2015 with solar workers, would push for a similar campaign this session.
Brooks said that solar advocates learned their lesson in 2015, and believed they would take a more relaxed approach than than the full court press undertaken by several businesses in the 2015 session.
“Sometimes, flooding mailboxes and flooding inboxes and making calls isn’t necessarily the best way to communicate directly with your legislator, and I think they learned that,” he said.
Caption: Electricians David Livingston, left, and Mario Rojas with 1 Sun Solar inspects solar panels in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)