Hilary Clinton has weighed into the escalating fight to save solar in the US state of Nevada, condemning in particular a move to apply retroactive charges for PV systems.

Just before Christmas Nevada’s regulator, the state Public Utilities’ Commission (PUC), approved a plan to cut rates paid out under net metering schemes, while also increasing the flat rate payable by residential PV system owners to the state’s main utility, NV Energy. The policy will be applied retroactively.

The move has already had an enormous impact on the state’s solar industry. SolarCity and Sunrun, two of the biggest residential installers in the US, have already pulled out of Nevada, with SolarCity quoted as saying 550 jobs would go and Sunrun similarly shedding “hundreds” of staff.

This is happening despite having made significant financial commitments including tax breaks to entice Tesla to build its famed Gigafactory in Nevada, while just last week, PV Tech reported that Google had added several metropolitan areas of the state to its “Project Sunroof”, the online mapping tool which shows homeowners in selected regions of the US how suitable their property is for hosting rooftop solar.    

In an interview with a local newspaper, the appropriately named Las Vegas Sun, presidential hopeful Clinton said that a transition to clean energy would be impossible if consumers were not given choice and investors not given certainty.

Clinton said the creation of 3,900 jobs in solar in the state last year alone made clean energy a “win-win”.

“Here in Nevada, 5,900 jobs – 3,900 just last year,” Clinton told the Sun.

“This is a win-win to move us away from fossil fuels, to diversify the grid, to give homeowners a chance to be empowered to do something about their own energy usage and put people to work.”

Clinton acknowledged that rules are different regarding PV markets in each state of the US and expressed hope that a resolution could be found before going on to condemn the fact that retroactive charges could hurt people who acted legally and in good faith.

“I don't think any change in rules should penalize people who were permitted and encouraged to do what folks have done. They shouldn't see that investment absolutely destroyed,” Clinton said.

“I'm hoping that there can be a sensible recognition of the benefits that this provides and the investments that people have already made.”

Politician who enabled new rules “absolutely concerned” at their consequences

Nevada’s governor himself has said that he may be powerless to reverse or even challenge the changes on a legal basis. Yesterday, the lead author of the new laws themselves was reported by Bloomberg Business as being surprised at the industry impact of the rule revisions.

The news outlet said it had interviewed Republican state senator Patricia Farley on Monday and found that she was “absolutely concerned” at the unintended effect the changes had. Farley appeared to suggest that she had not wanted existing solar customers to be punished, nor for SolarCity and Sunrun to quit the state and instead had simply wanted to open up the topic for full examination by the PUC. She did however say that there were “cost-shifting issues” that still needed to be addressed over residential solar, an argument which has played out across various states of the US over the past few years. Lobby group The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) said that it has previously fought a similar situation in Wisconsin and won.

Incidentally, Nevada’s utility NV Energy is owned by a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment house. In May 2015, Bloomberg said the billionaire investor, despite investing heavily in Chinese-American battery company BYD and other clean energy ventures, was encouraging moves such as that taken in Nevada to “protect competitive advantages”, quoting author Jeff Matthews, who has written books on Buffett.

Tags: solar, nevada, gigafactory, public utilities commission

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