In Nevada, hundreds of people are out of a job while residential customers are left wondering if they made the right choice to go solar. Rule changes in that state have created a mass exodus of leading solar industry companies. Nevada’s energy controversy even entered the national spotlight due to spirited campaigning by Democratic presidential candidates.
On a recent campaign stop in the state, candidate Bernie Sanders visited with solar industry workers and criticized public utility changes affecting solar. The Vermont senator called the rule changes, “incomprehensible,” the Associated Press reports.
Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who edged out the senator in the Nevada caucus, have bold climate change statements as part of their campaign platforms. Both have supported clean, renewable energy and steps to combat climate change, and both have been able to make timely comments on how the Nevada rule changes seem to unfairly penalize the solar industry.
The solar industry reports some of the most robust growth of any United States industry, touting more than 100,000 jobs. Yet in Nevada, jobs are at stake as top solar companies are laying off or relocating workers or otherwise pulling out of projects. This despite Nevada ranking as a top-three solar-producing state in a big year for solar energy growth.
Solar growth has happened in great part because individuals and businesses can receive benefits of net metering. This gives them credits for power produced from their own photovoltaic infrastructure. In the infancy of solar, this was heavily subsidized, less so as solar becomes more competitive with other forms of power production. Recently the Nevada Public Utility Commission made a rule change that significantly decreases the benefits solar customers can receive from net metering. This affects approximately 16,000 solar customers.
The utility has decided to phase out the ability of solar customers to receive net metering benefits over a 12-year period. This was adjusted from an earlier decision to phase out net metering over five years. An argument against net metering is that solar customers are subsidized by conventional power customers. Yet solar savings is what entices many people to try small-scale PV for the first time.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) responded with this from its vice president of state affairs, Sean Gallagher:
“We are disappointed that despite all of the support this measure had, the Commission chose to vote against the will of Nevadans. While lengthening the transition time to 12 years instead of four will help provide a longer runway, the decision takes away Nevadans ability to choose where their power comes from.
“Without question, this is extremely detrimental to clean energy and job growth in the state and we do not view this as a productive step in Nevada’s efforts to maximize the many benefits — from environmental to economic — that solar provides.”
“Telling employees they can no longer work for SolarCity is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. “These are hard-working Nevadans and a single government action has put them out of work. This is not how government is supposed to work.” The company had recently opened a new training center in West Las Vegas that will now be obsolete.
SunRun also announced it will cease all Nevada operations in 2016. This means hundreds more jobs lost, including subcontracting with local installers employed by other businesses.
Bryan Miller, senior vice president of public policy and power markets at Sunrun, commented: “Nevada passed incentives to attract residents to go solar. But after baiting homeowners with incentives, the state switched the rules, penalizing solar homeowners to deliver additional profit to NV Energy. This bait and switch hurts Nevada families, many of whom are retirees on fixed incomes, and who use solar savings to meet their monthly budgets.”
Vivint Solar CEO Greg Butterfield also criticized the Nevada rule change for jeopardizing solar progress in the state. “Were we and our competitors to proceed with operations in Nevada, customers would lose money, limiting adoption only to those willing to make an environmental statement — distracting from one of the first truly disruptive energy innovations in more than 100 years. Lawmakers in other states should focus on protecting jobs and reducing consumer costs, instead of following Nevada’s dated model of corporate welfare for entrenched industries.”
While the industry landscape is changing in Nevada, the SEIA reports that a record-breaking 7.3 gigawatts of new photovoltaic energy capacity was installed throughout the United States in 2015. Nevada’s installations were third only to those in sunny California and North Carolina.
Image courtesy FlourSackMama.com.