Nevada regulator blocks SolarCity from grandfathering proceedings
- Paul Thomsen, chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), ruled that SolarCity does not have enough "direct and substantive" interest to act as an intervenor in NV Energy's grandfathering proposals for rooftop solar, despite contracts with Nevada residents for solar arrays.
- SolarCity's customers are already adequately represented by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Thomsen ruled on Monday. The decision does not bar SolarCity from filing testimony in upcoming rate cases.
- The ruling comes months after SolarCity released a study tallying the net benefits of rooftop solar for all Nevada residents, intending to file it in the upcoming Sierra Pacific Power rate case.
Nevada's rooftop solar debate has taken another turn with Thomsen's decision to block SolarCity from proceedings on NV Energy's grandfathering proposal.
"SolarCity is not an association and, therefore, cannot represent the interests of other persons simply because the other persons may have installed SolarCity equipment," the PUCN chair wrote.
Previously, Thomsen expressed frustration to Utility Dive that solar companies had tended to participate through lobbying or "proxy" groups, making it harder to extract substantive testimony.
"To be successful, they are going to have to put themselves out there and be reviewed,” he said this April.
But in this docket, Thomsen decided that the interests of SolarCity customers were adequately represented by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and that the installer's business interest with the affected customers is no longer valid.
"SolarCity's interest in re-engaging in sales with individuals whose contracts or applications expired are speculative business plans and, therefore, not a valid direct and substantial interest for purposes of intervention, especially given SolarCity's comments that it is not currently engaged in the business of installing new [net metered] systems in Nevada," Thomsen wrote.
The debate stems from the PUCN's controversial net metering ruling in late December, when regulators cut solar credit rates for both existing and new rooftop customers. The decision not to "grandfather in" existing solar customers to the new rates was unprecedented, setting off months of public backlash and driving SolarCity and Sunrun out of the state market. Thomsen has defended the decision to cut grandfathering out of the final decision to Utility Dive, saying the provision would act as a "hedge" against energy prices.
"[Customers] believed it was a hedge against energy prices and as energy prices have declined in Nevada, I believe they want this grandfathering to protect them," he said.
In the course of this debate, the Commission has not only faced pressure from utilities and solar advocates, but also from the Governor's office.
Earlier this year, Gov. Brian Sandoval convened a task force to study clean energy and find policy solutions to satisfy both solar companies and utilities. Ultimately, the task force recommended the legislature should consider a grandfathering provision, similar to the one that made its way into NV Energy's second proposal.
Despite its support for grandfathering, NV Energy still sought to bar SolarCity from the proceedings. In the order, NV Energy was noted as saying it's "still looking for that tie between SolarCity and its standalone interest in this case, rather than as a representative form or of its customers."
Jon Wellinghoff, SolarCity's head of policy, expressed disappointment in the order.
“The Presiding Officer has excluded the one party that the people of Nevada actually chose of their own volition, their solar provider," he said in a statement. "It makes no sense to exclude these Nevada ratepayers from the table given SolarCity has been fighting for the grandfathering of these solar customers from day one.”
In an earlier interview with Utility Dive, Wellinghoff expressed hopes that a recent SolarCity valuation study, using a public tool established by a 2014 study evaluating solar's value, would provide evidence to establish a grandfathering provision.
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