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Published on February 11th, 2016 | by Kyle Field

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Nevadans Fight For The Right To “Bring Back Solar”

February 11th, 2016 by  

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We have been covering the decision made by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Nevada for several weeks, talking about how 17,000 Nevadans who installed solar have had the rug pulled out from under them when the PUC killed net metering in the state. Solar companies, solar installers, activists, and average, everyday citizens of the Silver State have been rallying against it since then, and a major milestone in that battle is this week, as the PUCN is expected to decide whether or not to grandfather in net metering for existing solar customers or not.

Show Me the Data!

Importantly, 89% of Nevadans are opposed to the PUC decision, 17,000 Nevadans have solar installed on their properties, the solar industry was growing 53 times faster than employment in the rest of Nevada… but has pulled an abrupt 180, with over 1,000 solar industry jobs having already been lost since the new ruling effectively made installing solar a losing proposition in December.

Leading the charge to reverse the ruling or, at a minimum, grandfather in the old policy for Nevadans with solar already installed is the Bring Back Solar campaign. The PUCN is expected to issue a ruling on grandfathering by Friday and to ensure the voices of the thousands of Nevadans who support solar are heard. Protests and rallies at the PUCN offices are organized to get the word out.

Leilani Munter

The Vegan Hippie Chick with a Race Car

One of the leaders of the charge is long-time eco-champion Leilani Münter, who drove out to Las Vegas in 006, the Stealth Projection Mobile Assault Vehicle with a mission. The mission this time for Leilani and 006 is to spread the word about what the reversal of net metering means to Nevadans. Leilani is, as she likes to say, “a vegan hippie chick with a race car” who regularly uses her platform as a professional race car driver on the ARCA circuit to spread environmental messages to racing fans.

She has advocated for dolphins, spreading the word about the thousands of dolphins being trapped and slaughtered for food in Japan via the movie “The Cove,” educating the world about the massive impact humanity is having on animals around the world in “Racing Extinction” at the end of last year as well as advocating fair solar regulations in California last month.

Leilani is not just talking the talk but she and her husband are also walking the walk, driving a Tesla Model S, eating vegan, collecting and reusing rainwater, and tapping into the power of the sun with a solar array on the roof of their North Carolina home. Interestingly, they had to fight their HOA to get approval for the installation and continue to get letters from the HOA asking whether or not it was an approved installation.

What’s Really Happening in Nevada?

To get to the bottom of the issue in Nevada, I reached out to Leilani in Las Vegas. She shared that “the public utilities commissioners are just three people in Nevada and they are appointed by the governor. So that means that three people in the state that are not elected by the public are controlling what happens with solar in Nevada. In California, which is by the way, is the 7th largest economy in the world, it’s only five people and we only won that vote by one vote. It was 3 to 2. Think about the fact that one person, voting for the right side, controlled what happened to solar in the 7th largest economy in the world.”

“That’s why I came out here in the Tesla,” Leilani Münter said, after she drove out to Vegas in an all-electric Tesla to spread the word. While driving out there, the battle really hit home: “I was driving across the desert and… as I got further and further into the desert, it hit me more and more, the ridiculous irony that I was driving into the desert to fight for solar power. Of all the places in the world, the desert. To me, it’s insane. It shows just how absolutely insane our world has become.”

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What is Being Done?

Leilani and the Bring Back the Solar campaign are fighting a two-pronged battle against the entrenched utility — first, for a near-term fix for existing solar owners with the aforementioned grandfathering push, which would extend the old regulation for existing solar owners. This allows them to operate their systems and get the payback that they were promised by the state by way of the net metering regulation that was in place.

The second prong of the war is the longer battle to actually reverse the new net metering regulation that was put in place. To get solar on the ballot, a referendum had to be filed which still needs to be approved. If it gets approved, the team needs to pull together 55,000 signatures… which should not be an issue considering that, in just 2 weeks, the team gathered 30,000 signatures to share with the PUCN. At that point, the issue will be on the ballot in November for the public to vote on.

Bring Back Solar took to the streets in 006 to blast the word out to the people of Nevada last night:

How Can People Help?

To truly tackle this issue, people need to mobilize. Thanks to technology, this has never been easier: “Go to bringbacksolar.org. That’s who I’m here with… this initiative to bring back solar to Nevada and raise awareness about the website and sign their names. That way the PUC will see that the public wants this. The public wants solar. The public doesn’t like what the PUC voted for and they want to overturn it and hopefully that will have an affect on their decision on Friday.”

Folks who are local in Las Vegas can also join the cause in person with rallies planned at the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada over the next few days. Check out the Bring Back the Solar site for the most recent updates, get engaged on Facebook, or connect with likeminded activists over at the 100.org page for the Nevada solar fight.

100.org has a great video up that really captures just how crazy this regulatory change… and the whole regulatory setup in Nevada seems to be. Mark Ruffalo calls them out as the Anti-Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Check out the full 3 minute video for all the juicy bits:

 
 
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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need.



  • If they’re worried about maintaining lines when net fees are negative – they their base connect fees for net metering and larger properties should be higher.

    But net metering needs to stay.

  • Bryan

    If the PUC does not grandfather in existing solar customers it could mean bad news for the large solar leasing companies that have customers in that state. The big solar leasing players in Nevada were heavily involved with the political and regulatory issues regarding net metering and probably knew full well the potential for eminent derogatory changes in Nevada’s solar policies, yet they continued to enter into contracts with homeowners without providing any warning of the potential for changes to the net metering policy. Already one lawsuit has been filed by a consumer who is seeking class action status.

  • parag

    While i support solar and net metering there are some point i would like to make.

    Gas prices have fallen more than 70% during last 2 years leading to reduction in prices of gas generated electricity. One cannot expect utilities to pay based on some old promise to pay. you need to have agreement for that not a promise.

    If you want net metering you need to have dynamic pricing and not fixed rates. As a utility can mostly get cheaper electricity from other sources and terminate contracts as was the case here.

    Similarly rooftop solar is an investment. You need to know the risks before investing in something. Then don’t go on shouting against the local government if your investment doesnt pay off.

    • Kyle Field

      By gas prices, you’re referring to natural gas? Natural gas has been effectively flat if all of the markets are taken into account. Electricity is not generated from gasoline.
      Net metering was based on real time retail pricing…it was the law, not a promise. The law has been changed.

      The utility did not have contracts with residential solar owners but made an implicit commitment to solar owners when it allowed them to purchase systems with 20 year payouts based on net metering. There is no “other source” that is cheaper for the utility…they just don’t want the competition so have lobbied to change the regulations to make solar uneconomic.

      https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/ng_pri_sum_dcu_nus_a.htm

      • parag

        I will honestly tell you that i dont know much about nevada and the law which was changed over there.
        But based on the article and your commnet “implicit commitment” it seems like it was only a hollow promise.
        And it seems you are confused between producers and utilities. Producers may include natural gas plants or solar roof tops. But it is the utility which purchases this electricity through contracts or spot exchanges or net metering. Now if it gets electricity from rooftops at the least prices of any sources would any capitalist be stupid to let it go?

        Once again i am telling that i fully support solar and net metering. But this article seems to be one sided against the capitalists.

        • Frank

          My utility in Ohio is in front of my PUC asking to add charges to my bill to ensure that they can make money with their 40 year old nuke, Davis Besse, and their 50 year old coal plant, Sammis, not because it’s cheaper, but because they own it, and want to make money with it. The distribution must not be allowed to own or sell generation. It is a conflict of interest. Their shareholders will expect the execs to fight for what is good for their company.

        • Kyle Field

          It is very much advocating for clean solar power (the clean tech part of the name of this site) and against dirty natural gas and coal fired electricity generation. The power from a home’s solar is not up for sale. That is the issue here. It is something owned by the homeowner that temporarily loans to the grid when it just happens to be most valuable (aka peak) and pulls back when it is least in demand (when the sun goes down aka off-peak).

          It’s fair to be charged a fee to “use” the grid but make no mistake, that power is not for sale…so yeah, the capitalists need to get their grubby hands out of homeowners and solar system owners pockets.

          The article is very clearly advocating for the people choosing to live less impactful lives and against those spewing pollution into the atmosphere just to make a buck. I understand that in the near term, it’s better to have power than not…but we need to move towards cleaner solutions, not just towards a fast buck.

    • Calamity_Jean

      “Gas prices have fallen … leading to reduction in prices of gas generated electricity. One cannot expect utilities to pay based on some old promise to pay. you need to have agreement for that not a promise.”

      Has the electric company reduced the retail cost of their power? If they have, then the net metering should reflect that. If they haven’t, why not? And if they are selling power at the old retail rate but buying it from the gas burning generators at the new lower price, they are making a bigger profit than they ought to be getting.

  • sjc_1

    Big money controls Nevada legislature, it is more than casinos.

  • Dan

    As frustrating this corruption is, I am glad it has inspired me to get more involved in my local government. The PUCN and NV Energy never responded to my calls or email but I did call my state legislature because of this issue and more recently the clean power plan. I discovered my state representative does not believe in the relationship between CO2 and global warming, or rather, in global warming at all. She is a supporter of coal because….jobs, and get this, her husband works in the energy industry. Conflict of interest much?

    Nevada is one of the best locations for solar in the world so it got me charged up to stand up for our energy transition there, but I live in Illinois and we are an understated coal state. It turns out Illinois is a huge coal state and my representative is incredibly misinformed or willfully ignorant for personal gain. I support solar, wind, energy efficiency and storage across-the-board in every corner the globe. Nevada deserves justice and our local governments are the best vehicle for influencing this transition everywhere.

    If you aren’t sure of your city and state representatives position is on these issues, find out, call them, and vote! I found it incredibly satisfying to give each person I spoke with a piece of my mind, respectfully. I do regret dropping an f bomb once when I said “i do not want us to use all the coal in Illinois because that is *f bomb’ing* ruining the entire planet.

  • lad76

    Your real problem is Governor Sandoval; as it is in some other states run by Republican Governors. They are taking campaign funding for their influence to maintain the status quo for the fossil fuel companies and the power business monopolies. Fire the Governor and you cure the problem. The solution is political.

  • Martin

    Just wondering, what would happen to the utility if all 17,000 people disconnected all at the same time on a very hot (max power use) day?
    Say about 2 pm?
    What is the output of those 17,000 systems?

    • Jamset

      Earth hour.

      • Martin

        In Canada Earth hour is is in the evening, is it the same in the US?
        Mind you if those systems account only for 1 or 2 %, not much would happen.

        • Jamset

          It is at 830PM everywhere.

    • GCO

      Say 5~6 kW × 17k systems, about 100 MW peak. Utilities normally handle smoothly the sudden loss of much larger power plants.

  • Marion Meads

    Eliminate the single utility monopoly in Nevada and everywhere!

    • Ronald Brakels

      Monopolies work fine when their goal is to (1) not kill people, and (2) function as a non-profit entity. Also, they have to be serious about (1). In Queensland in particular the state owned coal generation is really serious about doing the opposite. They don’t even have a plan for a rapid and orderly shutdown of their capacity.

      • newnodm

        Regulated monopolies should exist where there is a natural monopoly – like transmission and distribution.

        • GCO

          Agreed, with the added condition that those can’t be privately owned or for-profit entities.

          My connection to the grid is via a small municipal utility. It’s basically owned by the city, which operates it at cost, as a public service — just like roads, sewer, etc.
          It works wonderfully, with rates much lower than surrounding investor-owned utilities, and people-friendly policies promoting clean energy and efficiency. Can’t be happier.

          • Frank

            I’m jealous.

          • AdamKW33

            Looking back at the rush to privatize everything, it really defies logic that people thought they would get cheaper services by adding many profit centers between them and the services. It seems to me we should have left power utilities in the public realm.

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