Clean Power

Published on January 18th, 2016 | by Glenn Meyers


Black Hole Forms On Solar Net Metering In Nevada

January 18th, 2016 by  

Nevada’s Public Utility Commission (PUCN) has effectively created a solar black hole for the statue’s growing distributed energy movement, voting unanimously on Wednesday against requests to delay implementation of controversial changes to metering rates.

Nevada solar panels in Red Rock Canyon shutterstock_81051883

One of the sunniest states in the country with a black hole? Absolutely, if you happen to be a distributed energy and net metering enthusiast, or as importantly, a company serving that market sector, like Vivint Solar, SolarCity, and Sunrun.

On December 23, SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said his company would pull out of Nevada rather than deal with a decision that would “end customer choice, damage the state’s economy, and jeopardize thousands of jobs.” Apparently, Rive’s perspective had no impact on the three-member PUC’s unanimous decision.

These companies have now pulled up stakes in Nevada following the December PUCN action to change net metering remuneration rates and fixed fees for rooftop solar customers. The winner in this vote will be NV Energy, the state’s sole power utility.

Here is a snapshot of Wednesday’s events

  • The Associated Press reports Nevada’s PUC on Wednesday unanimously voted against requests to delay implementation of controversial changes net metering remuneration rates and fixed fees for rooftop solar customers.
  • Rooftop solar customers and installers had requested the commission put a stay on the new rates and charges, which the commission retroactively applied to existing solar systems, as well as new ones.
  • Prior to considering the stay, Commissioner David Noble filed a draft order urging colleagues to not to delay implementing the rates, set to go into effect Jan. 1.
  • PUC Chair Paul Thomsen said while the Commission was saddened by layoffs in the solar sector attributed to these reforms, the PUC was seeking a decision to “create a path forward” for rooftop solar users which treated all ratepayers equitably.

On its net metering section of its website, NV Energy tells customers:

“Over five years, the basic service charge will increase in gradual increments; each increment is accompanied by a related decrease in the energy charge that net metering customers pay for each unit of energy delivered by NV Energy. It also establishes a gradual process for decreasing the credit that NV Energy provides for energy delivered by net metering customers to NV Energy’s system. The rates that the PUCN sets for services provided by NV Energy, as well as the value of the credit for excess energy delivered by net metering customers, will be reset by the PUCN periodically.”

The new rates will increase the monthly charge for NV Energy customers with rooftop solar from $12.75 to $17.90 per month in the first year of the phased increase, and they will eventually reach $38.51 at the end of five years. The NEM credit for present and future solar owners would fall from $0.11/kWh to $0.09/kWh in the first year and then, progressively, to $0.026/kWh in 2020.

Nevada’s solar market has grown quickly in recent years, setting off a fierce debate between NV Energy and solar advocates as the rapid expansion of solar installations maxed out the state’s 235 MW net metering cap in 2015.

The state’s Legislature directed utility regulators in May 2015 to develop a new solar tariff that satisfied  both sides by the end of the year. As expected, NV Energy proposed lowering the remuneration rates for solar customers and increasing fixed fees. NV Energy argued net metered customers were not paying their fair share to maintain the electric grid.

The state’s net metering cap was reached in August

According to Utility Dive, “Stakeholders had anticipated hitting the net metering cap by early 2016, despite warnings by The Alliance of Solar Choice (TASC) that the quick pace of solar PV installations would mean the cap would be hit earlier than the projected timeline.”

When the net metering cap was reached in August, it temporarily halted solar installations and prompted Vivint Solar to leave Nevada. With the departure of SolarCity and Sunrun, the net metering black hole appears to be more real than imagined.

The next meeting of the PUCN is slated for Jan. 25.

Image: Solar panels at Red Rock Canyon via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • Ribfest

    Since the PUCN has effectively made Solar customers Wholesale power providers, I would think now, that I would be able to set up a small LLC to handle that business and take all the tax deductions including any losses that I incur by selling my power back to NV Energy at a rate less than I am paying for it. Since my rates are regulated by the PUCN and I have no say so in how they are set, I am effectively bound by the PUCN’s tariffs and therefore legally entitled to take those deductions as a wholesale power producer.

  • Hans

    Who is in the PUCN, what is their background? Are they really as independent as they should be? Or is this another “revolving doors” example? More background research please!

    • Ribfest

      They are appointed by the Governor for 4 years terms, they are not beholden to anyone but the Governor. They do not answer to the people in any way. They are supposed to be independent but I don’t see how that can be when you are simply appointed by the Governor with no confirmation by the Legislature. There are 3 commissioners and there can be no more than 2 who belong to the same political party. There has been talk of people changing the rules to make them elected officials. That’s actually not hard to do in Nevada.

      • Hans

        So if the governor is in the pocket of the utilities (the legal corruption of campaign contributions) the commissioners will be also.

      • Hans

        Any idea what the commissioners did before getting in the commission. Are they career politicians, people from the electricity sector?

  • Harry Johnson

    NV Energy is not a “power utility” but a power monopoly. Why is this still legal?

    • Hans

      My guess it is the direct result of the US electoral system that revolves about campaign contributions. This form of legal corruption makes vested interests with deep pockets very powerful.

  • Jan Galkowski

    So, if Nevada residences do want to go off grid using some combination of solar, wind, and storage, does there remain an option for them? Or are they enslaved to NV Energy?

    • Bryan

      Nevadan’s can “want to go off grid” all they want but doing so will only cause a dramatic increase in the cost of their electricity due to still far too high battery costs.

  • Freddy D

    Ironically, the Tesla PowerWall, to be largely manufactured in the state of Nevada, will enable residential customers to store their excess solar power, rather than selling it back at 2.6cents/kwh, using it a half hour later when the AC kicks on in hot, sunny Las Vegas, thus offsetting at the retail rate rather than the wholesale rate. In other words, technology will enable consumers to take net metering into their own hands.

    Similar situations exist in the American south, where laws restrict or severely discourage solar, there’s ample sunshine and high AC usage.

    • Hans

      Or they could use an AC that creates ice when PV supply is high (or grid prices are low) and later blows air over this ice to cool it. Will be interesting which technology will win: storage of “cold” or storage of electricity.

      • vensonata

        Correct, Hans. Thermal storage is cheapest in water and ice. Batteries can’t come close. Of course if you have a properly insulated house, the AC that is generated while the sun shines directly through PV should cool the house and the house should remain cool through the rest of the day. If not, the house needs a retrofit. It is the same with heating in the winter. Daytime energy is stored in mass or water not in batteries. Electricity for lighting and electronics is what batteries are for.

      • Freddy D

        Has been used for decades in commercial situations, but I think residential manufacturers and technicians are so entrenched that it would take decades to get them to change. Just like tankless water heaters and heat pumps – it’s been a decades-long journey and still not really taking off for residential.

        • neroden

          I still can’t get an air-to-water heat pump in the US, although they’re mass produced in Japan (under the name “EcoCute”).

    • Jan Galkowski

      There are companies selling AC units which are directly solar-powered, so the grid does not have to get involved at all.

      • Bryan

        Sure, but their made in China, They’re too expensive and they don’t last.

      • Freddy D

        True, technically, there are much better solutions than storage, but there are millions of AC units installed already and the whole AC industry and technicians know how they work. The human change, let alone getting the AC industry to actually build variable speed units that match PV output, etc, would be difficult, vs. just throw some storage at the problem and problem solved. If not economically viable now, wait a couple years, but this is coming, I think.

    • Bryan

      @Freddy D, The Tesla Powerwall is still priced too high to make what you’ve just described Economically feasible.

      • Freddy D

        Perhaps initially, but this is likely the future. How much further do installed PV prices and PowerWalls need to come down to undercut retail electricity prices? It must be very close today, if not there already. I don’t know the power specs on a PowerWall, but the LG unit can do 5kw charge and discharge, as I understand. That’s enough to match a 5kw AC unit. And the storage doesn’t need to be 100% to improve the economics of avoiding selling back power at 2cents/kwh. Furthermore, as time goes on, evening power will sell at a higher rate than daytime power, further improving the economics of this.

        What price per kw for the PV system installed, including a PowerWall, would be needed to make this viable?

        • Bryan

          Yes, in the future. Probably another 5 to 7 years. According to a spec sheet from Tesla, their battery will not power an AC unit because it only has a 2 kW continuous power rating. And even if it could supply 5 kW of continuous power then that would mean that their 7 kWh daily use battery would only run that 5 kW AC unit for 1.4 hours. What good is that?

          • vensonata

            The Tesla 7 kwh powerwall has 5 kw continuous and 7 kw peak. So it can run an air conditioner. However, it would be rather silly to run air con on batteries. First set your temperature at 75. Next get ceiling fans and moveable fans at 30 watts. Run your air con during the day when the sun is shining. If your house is a leaky pig, you know what you should do next, don’t you?

          • Bryan

            No it doesn’t. You made that up. Produce a link to a Tesla website that shows that data or admit that you’re lying vesonata.

          • vensonata

            How about straight out of the mouth of Elon Musk at the Tesla shareholders meeting. Elon Musk “made it up”. The original complaint at the 2 kw continuous and the 3.3 peak produced a change. That is the news. Now admit that you are out of the loop and a little crabby as well!

          • vensonata

            “We actually took some of the negative feedback to heart, and I’m happy to announce we’ve dramatically increased the power capability of the Powerwall,” Musk told investors at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Mountain View, Calif. today.

            ThePowerwall batteries will go from having a two-kilowatt (kW) steady power output and 3.3kW peak output to a 5kW steady output and 7kW peak output, Musk said.”

          • Bryan

            Straight out of anybody’s mouth is worthless. It’s just a claim. That’s all. Show me something in writing. Here’s something in writing from Tesla that’s ambiguous to say the least. How can they claim a 3.3 kW continuous rating and a 3.3 kW peak rating?

          • vensonata

            Jeez. I give up man. If you so desperately want to be right, I will let you.

          • Bryan

            It seems to me that you gave up because you read the link to the press release on Tesla’s websites that proves that the PowerWall does not offer 5 kW continues and 7 kW peak power rating.

          • Freddy D

            People in NV and American south are already setting AC at 78, all homes are built to current code (Which, I’ll be the first to admit is crap relative to current knowledge of zero-energy building, but it’s the current fact of life and I wouldn’t expect people to do a zero-energy retrofit – just won’t happen). And these AC units (actually, in the south, many folks have 2 or 3 of the 4-5kw units ). I know what you’re saying and that’s how I operate in more temperate climate, but these hot places are so relentless, it’s hard to describe.

          • Freddy D

            Exactly. not really ready for 2016. In fact, I don’t think I could buy a Powerwall today if I wanted to – they’ve only shipped a handful of them. This is where solar installers will need to go in order to make markets in the future – keep it all “behind the meter”. Sure, use the utility to balance demand/production at the edges, and pay the fee. “in Vegas, what happens behind the meter, stays behind the meter” (sorry..)

        • vensonata

          First, we need to know for sure whether the 30% tax rebate applies to batteries. If so the bundled price of PV plus battery should be about $3.70 watt. Then 30% reduction gives $2.60 watt. In Las Vegas with its incredible solar resources that will be grid competitive at about 12 cents kwh. That happens to be the grid price in Nevada.
          The above figures are from PV Watts the national site for solar calculations and includes the price of one 7 kwh powerwall. The national installation average for PV system is $3.30, the battery brings it up to $3.70. If you want two powerwalls for 14 kwh then the bundled price before tax rebate is $4 watt. That comes in at 12-13 cents kwh after 30% rebate. This is ballpark but very close.

          • GCO

            And you’re at it again with your imaginary numbers. Let me try a car analogy this time.

            With the same logic, I can buy my own brand new Tesla car for 3 c/mile.
            This is already a twisted, misleading metric: cars, just like batteries and inverters, aren’t priced by usage in the first place.

            I take some announced, future and/or optimistic pricing, for which no quote exists of course (just like you keep doing with batteries): 30k$-something for the Tesla Model 3, counting all the possible rebates but none of the taxes and fees, and ignore all other costs: energy usage etc for the EV, or installation for the batteries (which you systematically leave out), interest rates, etc.
            Then I divide by Musk’s stated “goal” of a 1-million-mile drivetrain, again disregarding how little this statement actually means.

            There you have it, a long-range EV at 30$/month for the average driver. And I can victoriously conclude how highly competitive with other forms of transportation this is…

            Hopefully this better illustrates how detached from reality your kW⋅h figures are.

        • GCO

          Depends on the delta between feed-in and consumption electricity prices. If the first is 2.6 c/kW⋅h and the 2nd is 11c (someone with PV should remain in tier 1), and we assume a 7 kW⋅h battery system with 90% round-trip efficiency all included, savings would total 54 c/cycle.

          In the best-case scenario where 100% of the battery is used every single day, that’d be just shy of 200$ per year.
          Even if the system was free, it wouldn’t save enough to offset the “service” fee that NV Energy demands from PV owners.

          • vensonata

            The service fee goes to $38 per month by 2020. That is $456 year.

    • Clay

      Except that people with batteries will have to pay the NEM minimum service rate. They put that in on line 19 of the new rate rules. How nice they could stomp their feet and throw a hissy to eliminate the ability for people to buy less from them. The only way to get full use with out being penalized is to be completely off grid. Which takes much more equipment and triples the cost.

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