Nevada Supreme Court rejects rooftop solar referendum

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The ruling is a blow to SolarCity, which spent at least US$2 million pushing the referendum, and a victory for NV Energy, which spent more than US$1 million fighting it. Source: Flickr/mrbill

Yesterday, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously ruled against a popular rooftop solar referendum for the upcoming 8 November ballot that could have restored net metering rates to their former, more favourable state by amending the Commission’s legislative authority.

The ruling now prevents Nevadans from voting on the measure to reverse the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) decision. The seven-member ruling body dismissed the proposal as “fundamentally flawed”; characterising the campaign, which was spearheaded by SolarCity’s Bring Back Solar group, as “not only inaccurate and misleading, but also argumentative.”

Question 5, as the proposal is officially known, would have allowed general election voters to decide whether or not to restore the state’s net metering structure to a more favourable rate. The beginning of this year saw fees for solar users triple as credits for energy fed back into the grid were diminished, amidst arguments that the scheme was displacing the burden onto non-solar ratepayers.

The Court’s decision plays into the hands of NV Energy, the state’s largest utility, who paid advocacy group Citizens of Energy Fairness to challenge the referendum, on the grounds that it was unfairly subsidising solar customers’ use of the grid. Equally, the ruling comes as a blow to Bring Back Solar and supporting Nevadans who not only presented a petition with more than 115,000 signatures asking to put the measure on the ballot, but also demonstrated support via a poll that showed 73% of Nevadans support rooftop solar.

“While we’re disappointed that the Court ruled in such a way that the people of Nevada will not be able to vote on this issue, it clarifies the role Nevada’s leadership must play in representing the majority of Nevadans who want  to bring solar back to Nevada,” said Erin McCann, campaign manager for Bring Back Solar, in a statement. “Working together with legislators, key stakeholders, and Nevada’s hundreds of thousands of solar supporters, we look forward to crafting strong solar policies that give Nevadans the freedom to power their homes and communities with clean solar energy.”

‘Too little, too late’

Despite the purported setback, it is clear that there is support for rooftop solar in Nevada. Last week, a group of local installers lobbied against NV Energy’s efforts to grandfather 32,000 solar customers – citing their announcement as “too little, too late.”

“When the Commission ruled against grandfathering solar customers on 17 February, many solar companies and solar advocates immediately responded by appealing the Commission’s decision. It’s disappointing that NV Energy, while speaking to the press about their support for grandfathering, waited 161 days to respond to the Commission,” read a letter put together by five local solar installers.

The group called for allowing “Nevadans the choice to go solar in the future”, “saying that “it should be up to the voters to decide”, just days before the ruling rejected the right for the rooftop solar referendum to appear on November’s ballot. 

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