The following viewpoint is from Anne Hoskins, the current Chief Policy Officer for Sunrun and a former Commissioner on the Maryland Public Service Commission.
After nearly two years of controversy and uncertainty, Nevada’s legislators and Governor achieved the inevitable. Consumers unequivocally demanded access to rooftop solar, and the legislature responded by passing a bill—nearly unanimously—allowing the state’s crushed residential solar industry to rise again.
For regulators seeking a measured approach to the integration of rooftop solar, skip to the end of Nevada’s experience—and definitely skip the stage where solar consumers are denied fair credit for the energy they share with their neighbors. The tenable path forward is rooted in consumer choice, compromise, and collaboration.
In the wake of the 2015 regulatory order that devalued solar exported by customers, such decisive political support to restore net metering seemed unimaginable. Yet, in a December 2016 order partly reversing the 2015 decision, the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, Joe Reynolds, described the decision: "Abraham Lincoln once said that “[b]ad promises are better broken than kept...The PUCN’s prior decisions on NEM [Net Energy Metering], in several respects, may be best viewed as a promise better left unkept. The PUCN . . . look[s] forward to pursuing that new approach together with all Nevadans.”
In parallel, Nevada lawmakers discovered that the millions of consumers clamoring for access to rooftop solar had another name: voters. As former Nevada Utility Commissioner Rebecca Wagner aptly described consumer demand to E&E: "People feel strongly about clean energy and access to clean energy. I don't think that's ginned up. I think it's real.”
Beyond reinstating solar net metering to ensure that consumers receive fair credit for the energy they export to the grid, the Nevada legislation also provides a model for protecting solar “prosumers”. Under the bipartisan law, homeowners are protected by a first-in-the nation Solar Bill of Rights, which ensures utilities cannot single out solar customers with unexpected and discriminatory fees. The law also provides strong standards for transparent sales practices, allowing homeowners to invest in solar with peace of mind.
The political reality of consumer demand is increasingly driving solar compromise in legislatures and state utility commissions across the country. Plainly, support for rooftop solar is palpable, regardless of party affiliation, and decision-makers are taking note.
For example, Xcel in Colorado heralded the 2016 landmark settlement between themselves, solar interests and more than a dozen other stakeholders as a chance to give “customers more control over their energy choices.”
More recently, the New Hampshire Commission facilitated a collaborative settlement process which narrowed regulatory options and yielded an order that enables continued solar investment in the Granite State. Citing lack of data, the Commission triggered a longer-term value of distributed energy resources docket with innovative pilots, such as non-wires alternatives, to drive a data-based rate in the future.
The New Hampshire order ensures market stability by removing all net metering caps and offering robust grandfathering, while making incremental changes on the road to a future tariff. It soundly rejected the euphemistically termed “instantaneous netting” pushed by the utilities, and did not accept their false claim that distributed energy resources provide zero distribution benefit. Further, while we compromised on some things, like distribution value, this new rate is temporary until we can implement a rate based on real data and real value.
The recent experiences in Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire—and previous experiences in California and New York—show that solar companies are willing to come to the table and support public policy that fairly credits consumers who invest in solar energy. We invite more utility counterparts to join us. Together, we can enable more solar customers to create clean energy, good jobs and a more diversified grid.