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Clean Power solar net metering Nevada Koch ALEC

Published on February 8th, 2016 | by Tina Casey


Solar Net Metering Fight Gets Personal, Koch Brothers Named On Senate Floor

February 8th, 2016 by  

The fight over solar net metering in Nevada just got personal last Friday, with a proposed new amendment tacked on to the federal energy bill designed to protect solar customers from retroactive fees and other unexpected rate changes. In a speech on the Senate floor making his pitch for the amendment, Nevada Senator Harry Reid denounced the billionaire Koch brothers by name for trying to knock the pins out from under the nation’s solar industry. For good measure, Reid also nailed ALEC, the Koch-sponsored anti-solar lobbying group.

solar net metering Nevada Koch ALEC

The Nevada Solar Net Metering Mess

For those of you new to the topic, net metering is credited with pushing the US distributed solar industry from only 7,000 rooftops as recently as 2005, to more than half a million today. Owners of rooftop solar arrays that are grid-connected get credit for the excess solar energy that they generate, typically resulting in lower electricity bills. Without that perk, the incentive to invest in a rooftop solar array diminishes significantly.

The solar net metering mess in Nevada popped up late last year, when the Nevada Public Utility Commission gave the state’s solar installers — and its customers — a whopping big lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. The PUC not only lowered the rate of compensation for solar customers and raised the monthly charge, it made the change retroactive, basically transforming the statewide solar market into a classic bait-and-switch scheme.

The Nevada solar industry roared back with a show of force. SolarCity, SunRun, Vivent and other solar installers promptly shut down all or part of their Nevada operations, idling thousands of solar workers.

As voiced by Vivent CEO Greg Butterfield, the devastating loss of jobs should warn other states against a similar move, but apparently it’s too late for Nevada. In mid-January the Nevada PUC voted unanimously to proceed with the new solar net metering rates, without delay.

Harry Reid Vs. The Koch Brothers

Or, maybe it’s not too late for Nevada. Congress has been hammering out an energy bill, and in the latest development, last Thursday U.S. Senators Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced an amendment that would protect net metering customers in Nevada and elsewhere. In a speech on the Senate floor, Reid pointed out exactly who he expects to protect solar customers from:

The Koch Brothers and their fossil fuel pals have attacked our blossoming clean energy industry at every turn. They’ve done it in state legislatures all over the country, and they’re doing it today on this amendment that Senator King and I have worked on. They have turned loose their minions, their anti-consumer minions, and they’re now out working against this amendment.

After citing a recent New York Times op-ed detailing the solar bait-and-switch in Nevada, Reid continued:

That’s fairly frightening that the utilities and the Koch Brothers are doing this. The Koch brothers are doing it through a number of the billions of dollars that they have invested in controlling America through organizations called ALEC – the so-called American Legislative Exchange Council – which is a phony front to working the state legislatures.


Unfortunately, monopoly utilities and ideological groups funded by the Koch brothers are working hard to defeat any protections for Americans who generate their own clean energy. They are fighting our efforts to protect families and businesses from having their contracts torn up and their power bills hiked.


The White House Weighs In

For those of you unfamiliar with ALEC, the longstanding Koch-funded lobbying group’s primary strategy is to create model state legislation for its member legislators to follow, virtually word for word.

Until recently ALEC’s membership roll also includes leading US corporations, but ALEC’s extremist conservative policies — for example its 10th Amendment “states’ rights” position — has motivated dozens to jump ship in recent years.

ALEC’s promotion of the fossil fuel industry has been another stick driving away corporate members. While claiming that it doesn’t favor one form of energy over another, the ALEC has come out swinging against solar net metering.

On the other hand, the Obama Administration has been waving carrots at the business community to woo major companies away from ALEC in promotion of clean tech and climate action, one example being the recently launched American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at President Obama’s weekly radio address from last Saturday, just two days after Senator Reid’s speech. Coincidentally — or not — the President’s address was all about investing more in clean tech for job creation, with a subtle jab at the Koch brothers and ALEC:

…the budget I will send to Congress this Tuesday will double funding for clean energy research and development by 2020. This will include new investments to help the private sector create more jobs faster, lower the cost of clean energy faster, and help clean, renewable power outcompete dirty fuels in every state.


The point is, all across the country, folks are putting their differences aside to face this challenge as one…

So there’s that.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Reid/King amendment to benefit Nevada solar customers, Democrats in the Senate are also fighting for an amendment that would clean up another ALEC-fueled mess over in Michigan, so stay tuned.

Photo: via (via US Department of Energy).

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Lynhart

    Nevada has gone the way of Arizona as Citizens United .01% /ALEC deceptive campaign crucified the sun/solar photo voltaic in favor of monopoly of production developing insatiable appetite for profits through transmission line tolls. Let us not for get Enron. G. Elsner “It is in a very real sense a slow-motion corporate coup d’etat that threaten to destroy the integrity and functioning of American Democracy.

  • 42apples

    This drivel is seriously insulting to those of us who don’t support net metering and have no allegiance to the Koch Brother, Big Oil, Warren Buffet, etc. Electricity market economists (who are NOT sworn allies of the Koch Brothers in any way, shape or form) have been against net metering since its inception. Rooftop solar panels have been kicking and screaming and crying bloody murder about net metering instead of being productive in helping design a new electricity market that is fair to all consumers.

    And by the way, it is not mostly the Koch brother’s fault that most electric utilities are monopolies. California was on a path to competitive markets until Enron happened, but then the CPUC cowered away in fear and stopped anyone from competing with California’s utility monopolies.

  • Dries V

    In Europe we have seen it all happen before.

    And the result is that the cost of rooftop solar will drop. Subsidies or net metering is keeping the installation cost artificially high. And when one state is dropping the net metering other states will follow and these 3 major installers having an oligopoly will face competition from smaller cheaper installers and have to change their pricing.

    Next step is that rooftop solar owners are also considered as producers. And have to pay the same fee that utility owners need to pay for the use of the grid. This part has just been introduced in my country (we have a fixed fee based on the capacity of the converter, around 100euro/kW capacity/year).

    Third step could be that due to being a producer you are considered to respect the balancing policies that others are required to respect, and subscribe to a smart grid system, that will cut off your panels when the production is to high. But I’m doubting that this smart grid will ever reach maturity before people will disconnect from this grid all together and start a dc based local/home grid.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Where in Europe?

      • Dries V

        Belgium (Flemish region), they called it ‘green certificates’ which you you received when producing 1kwh of green power (in the beginning you got 200euro/kwh, it went down when the system got more popular).

        When they were available my brother paid (give or take) 20k euro for his solar panels. Now these certificates are not available any more and I’m placing solar panels for around 6k euro (granted they are little less in capacity as it doesn’t make any sense to place something that produces more then you consume).

        Because of the popularity of these certificate they estimated that we have a deficit of 5b euro. To pay for this deficit everybody that is connected with a regular connection is taxed 100 euro a year. (For small businesses with a heavier connection it’s even more.) The name of the tax is Turtle Tax (named after the minister who introduced this tax).

        In addition because the grid maintenance was financed by a tax on the amount of energy consumed. And owners of solar panels usual have no total consumption (when solar panels produce the meter runs in the backwards, resulting in invoices with zero consumption). They have introduced a new type of consumer the ‘procumenten’ which are producers and consumers. Those people need to pay for the use of the grid. The amount is based on the capacity of the inverter.

        But still then with all these taxes my planned installation will break even in 8 year.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m not seeing a causal relationship there.

          The price of solar panels were very high, production was low. Subsidies in Spain and Germany greatly increased installation rates, production increased, prices fell. Small market like Belgium probably played any significant role.

          Once the price started to fall installation rates increased in other places simply because the economics worked.

          Your brother paid 20k euros for a system and used subsidies to lower his cost. Now the cost has fallen to 6k euro. Is that the case?

          • Dries V

            Your comment is confusing … so you do not see the relationship then let me try again. Like I said the prices for solar panels dropped only after the subsidies dropped. Here is why …

            The subsidies were good to create an initial demand to start an economy of scale. But as long as the subsidies remained the installers and producers of solar panels kept their high prices. The demand was there so no reason to compete.

            As soon as the subsidies dropped, demand halted. And in order for manufactures to survive they started to compete each other based on prices. Only then the price for home owners started to drop. Making sure their investments still paid off.

            The German and Spain factor only paid a role on international scale. Due to the combined demand, Chinese manufactures started producing low cost panels. But the installation is still done by local contractors and they set the price. And even with the low priced panels they did not lowered their price why would they? Demand was high due to the subsidies.

            And yes my brother paid more than 20k and got 350euro/kWh for the next 20 years (he installed like 5/6 years ago). I will have my system by next april and will pay 6k but will not receive any benefits apart of the fact that I will not pay for my electricity only for the grid usage. The system will deliver around 3.2kWh a year.

          • eveee

            Dont subsidies drop in a FIT when more is implemented and costs drop? So don’t they act like

            ” the prices for solar panels dropped only after the subsidies dropped”

            We have to be careful about establishing causality there.

          • Dries V

            The green certificate we had are not like feed in tariffs (if that is what you mean with FIT). In order to realize a stable investment our government ensured the home owner that for the the specified period a fixed amount per kWh you generated was paid.

            You got a green certificate which the distributor had to buy for that amount. He could sell it on the market to the power suppliers who wished to sell certified green power to customers. But the price the distributor got was way down the price it has to pay to the home owners.

            So now we have a 5billion Euro deficit that we all need to pay for (100 Euro/year/connection)

            But I’m not familiar with how the FIT works in other parts of the world so correct me if our certificates have key differences with the FIT or NEM systems you have.

          • eveee

            It looks like the subsidy system in your area is not quite right. The FITs worked well in Germany. I am no expert on FITs, I just read what others have said.

          • Dries V

            I guess you are right … our government should have researched it better. The party that introduced the system is no longer part of the current government and the new government is cleaning up the mess.

          • GCO

            Reality doesn’t seem to support your assertions.

          • Dries V

            My assertion? I’m talking about reality in our region. And about installation prices not module price. Contractors made a lot of profit during the years 2009 and 2012. They were keeping the price comfortably high. They didn’t follow the whole sale prices of the solar modules. No, they followed the demand and this was so high that there was a shortage in contractors and even plumbers started to put solar panels on roofs.

            Installation price dropped considerable (when compared with my brothers to 1/3) after the subsidies completely stopped. This is not an assertion this is reality.

  • Hans

    You can twist it any way you like but net-metering is a form of subsidy. That is fine by me to get the market started, but in the long run it is not sustainable. A more long term strategy would be to replace the net-metering with a feed-in-tariff that gradually decreases over time for new systems. This in turn should be gradually replaced by a market based price.

    This long term strategy can only work with an impartial grid operator (which means the traditional utility should be broken up), a proper price on carbon and strict regulation of traditional pollution like mercury, SOx and NOx. In the most sunny US states the vertically integrated utility monopoly is still in place which makes the choice very binary: yes or no net-metering. If this is the only choice, I would choose net-metering.

    • kvleeuwen

      I assume the reply was on GCO’s post?

    • GCO

      Agreed on the split between distribution and generation; the latter needs competition.

      Regarding net metering, you seem confused and/or maybe just repeating talking points you heard.

      If the utility sends 1000 kW⋅h to me and my neighbors, it gets paid for 1000 kW⋅h, PV or not — plus any applicable grid connection fees, usually dependent on the capacity of the service (e.g. 100 A, 200 A…).

      How is this a form of subsidy?

      By contrast, customer-generators never get paid unless they produce a surplus, and then they only get, at best, the “wholesale generation” rate, despite having delivered energy locally at the right voltage.

      You suggest that electricity should be sold at “market based price”. Shouldn’t this price then be the same for all suppliers?
      That is, if at a given time, the utility sells me electricity for XX c/kW⋅h, my neighbors ought to be able to do the same, right?

      Net metering is a very effective and straightforward way to achieve this.

      • Bob_Wallace

        With TOU billing it would not take a large amount of end-user solar to take the wholesale and retail cost of electricity at noon lower than the wholesale and retail cost of electricity at 7 PM.

        If utilities are required to take lower cost electricity and replace it with higher cost electricity they are losing money. The customer with solar is getting “free storage”. Non-solar customers are going to be paying for the utility company’s losses.

  • GCO

    Meanwhile, California’s solar keeps growing and now covers ~8% of the state’s electricity needs, exceeding even Germany…

    The author of the article you point to apparently doesn’t even know (or purposely ignores) that net metering is limited to offsetting some or all of a customer’s own energy needs, never more. Only generation surplus may get paid for by utilities, and always at a much lower price than retail.

    More net metering misconceptions debunked here:

  • JamesWimberley

    The 2016 campaign has already started. Nevada is a swing state, and Reid hopes to use this wedge issue to paint it blue. The Kochs have no subtlety; their lobbying effort is as crude and blatant as the bribery of Congress by the Union and Central Pacific Railroads in the 1860s.

    • eveee

      Crude and blatant. Great name for a lobbying firm.

    • dogphlap dogphlap

      If it works why would they change their tactics ?

  • Dan

    Nevada rooftop solar has taken a hit from NV Energy, owned by Warren Buffet. They claim that utility scale solar is more economical and better for consumers but that is not true. People who own their energy production or have privately signed lease contracts have more independence over the price fluctuations that a state monopoly can dictate like this. Without transitioning the public utility commision and state monopoly to smart grids and accountability when it comes to distributed generation net metering, they will have all of the bargaining power and can charge whatever the public doesn’t revolt against. Large solar fields may be more cost effective, if you have the capital to build them, by consumers suffering from a corrupt market place like this one in Nevada will never see those savings in their monthly rates.

    • Mike333

      Exactly. A Monopoly Business Does Not transfer savings to consumers.

      • Mike333

        In economics it’s called “Rent Seeking”.
        And the Damn Rent Seeking is Too Damn High.

      • Hans

        That is why the monopoly should be broken. Only the grid is a natural monopoly. Power production and retail can be left to the free market, preferably combined with a proper price on pollution.

        • Frank

          They should. It isn’t like that everywhere. We need the monopoly part to not care who’s generation they sell, otherwise they will continually be in front of the local PUC doing exactly what their shareholders expect from them, as long as they want to keep their job.

          • Hans

            I would go even further. Monopolies should not even sell power, only transport it. Here in Germany I can choose from who I buy my power. I get my power from a green supplier who gets al it’s power from renewable sources and is actively building new wind and solar power plants, and that for a competitive price.

          • Frank

            Exactly right. I am buying 100% wind power for a very tiny bit more, but First Energy is trying to sweet talk the PUCO into putting a charge on by bill so they can keep a 50 year old coal plant, and a 40 year old nuke running. Why, because they sell power.

      • eveee

        We all should know how the game is played by now.

    • Matthew Uddenberg

      This Koch Brothers indictment seems to be hiding the fact that the real person in charge and benefiting from this is Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet) who owns NV Energy. I am no fan of the Koch brothers, but they clearly aren’t the ones behind the net metering fight in Nevada, they have nothing to gain there. Hopefully this last desperate jab from NV Energy will lead to further fraying of the edges (consumer defection) and the institution of smart grids and storage, using the larger grid as back up only.

      • Dan

        The bit about ALEC is relevant because Berkshire Hathaway/Warren Buffet and the Koch brothers can cooperate together against consumer rights to protect both of their market positions. Warren Buffet has been investing in utility renewables but working against small scale renewables, at least in Nevada for sure.

        The Koch brothers have been far more directly involved in blocking offshore wind, especially the Nantucket Sound Cape Wind Farm in Massachusetts. Any win for conventional centralized control over utilities is a win for the entrenched energy tycoons. So, ALEC and Koch brothers are worth mentioning and Warren Buffet/Berkshire Hathaway/ NV Energy are all a part of this story.

        Harry Reid may have neglected to mention Buffet to stay on his good side, while Koch brothers have become political fodder as the bad guys they are lately. Buffet has a reputation politicians may want to maintain so they can continue to use his name as a shining example of what a rich guy can be… i.e. paying higher taxes and investing in renewables.

    • bmkester

      NV Energy is guaranteed a 10% ROI (return on investment) by the PUC. This perversely ties how much they invest in utility scale solar to it’s profit margin. Just another nail in Nevada’s coffin for residential solar.

  • Kyle Field

    I love Obama’s push to keep renewable energy and climate change on the radar in his last year. So thankful for firm leadership and hopefully a continuation of that through a follow up candidate to lead the charge for the next 4 years.

    I’m disappointed that none of the Republican candidates are willing to stand up for science to admit that climate change is caused by humans. …lunacy.

  • Martin

    Considering all the installed RE on a world scale, when will come the point that donations etc from those sectors will out strip the once from FF and related funds. I hope very soon for all of our sake, humans and other life on this planet!

    • Harry Johnson

      Obscenely wealthy old white men are destroying our nation and future.

      • Martin

        Yes, according to a list of the richest people in the world, the Koch brothers added about $ 2 billion to their wealth, (over 2-3 years?) partly because of their business practices. (one of their businesses has offered to buy a barrel of crude, if you pay them $ 0.50).
        So you would be better off to leave it, the oil, in the ground).
        Partly because of the word wide over production of 2 million per day and at sometime this year all the tanks will be full. Currently in the US they are near 80 + % of capacity, from what I read.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “(one of their businesses has offered to buy a barrel of crude, if you pay them $ 0.50)”

          As of a few days ago there were a large number of tankers full oil anchored because they have no place to offload. Oil tankers are generally leased and the cost per day is high. It might make sense for some oil owners to pay a bit to get their oil out of the tankers in order to halt the lease costs.

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