Armed observers heighten tensions in Nevada solar net metering debate

Dive Brief:

  • State officials are calling for calm ahead of a meeting of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada on Friday after after a few solar advocates showed up to an earlier meeting of the regulatory body this week armed with pistols.
  • Nevada is an open carry state, so individuals are within their rights to carry a gun to the meeting, which the Las Vegas Review-Journal said could draw as many as 1,000 observers.
  • Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement calling for "civil debate," and acknowledging that "heightened rhetoric has escalated the tensions."
  • Regulators are set to decide whether to reconsider rate changes approved last year, which raised fixed charges on NV Energy customers who own solar panels. The charges rose from the $12.75 to $17.90 this year, and over a four-year period will rise to more than $38.

Dive Insight:

Net metering policy has inspired heated debates in states from Hawaii to Massachusetts, but Nevada has found a way to further ratchet up the pressure. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, earlier this week three people in "Bring Back Solar" shirts attempted to deliver wheelbarrows of cards indicating support for solar energy, while carrying pistols. 

Because it was not an open hearing, the armed observers were denied entry. However, they indicated they would return today, still armed, setting off calls for calm around the commission.

PUCN General Counsel Lina Tanner told the Review-Journal that "things were getting really tense on the ground," and some employees of the commission are worried, but she added "we are mindful of Second Amendment rights and that Nevada is an open carry state."

Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement calling for "a civil debate on this important energy issue."

"I realize that heightened rhetoric has escalated the tensions surrounding this discussion and I ask for all parties to approach this important hearing with civility and respect for the process and their fellow Nevadans," Sandoval said.

In December, PUCN approved new rates that increase the monthly charge for NV Energy customers who own solar from the $12.75 to $17.90 and decrease their volumetric rate from $0.111/kWh to $0.108/kWh.Monthly basic service charges will scale up gradually to reach $38.51 and the volumetric rate will fall to $0.099/kWh over four years.

At today's meeting, regulators are set to decide whether to reconsider the new rates and if customers with existing solar panel should be grandfathered into the new rates over 20 years. The lack of a grandfathering provision — meaning the new rates would apply to existing solar customers as well — has been a central point in the debate, with some solar owners arguing it violates the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

The PUCN's Tanner acknowledged the state's open carry laws and the Second Amendment, but said such a display during a potentially heated hearing could be seen as an effort to threaten or exert undue influence on regulators. After the original net metering decision in December, stakeholders in Nevada told Utility Dive that aggressive solar lobbying tactics may have alienated regulators during debate on the solar remuneration rates. 

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Filed Under: Solar & Renewables Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: Rob Bixby