A shocking decision by Nevada’s Public Utility Commission recently gave NV Energy, the state’s only power company, permission to charge higher rates and fees to solar consumers. The increase more than triples the previous rates, it’s retroactive, and it just killed a burgeoning industry.
Las Vegas gets more annual sunshine than both Phoenix and Tucson. Nevada was home to 111 solar companies, employing 5,900 people with a living wage. Three national solar companies have already released public statements indicating they are pulling out of Nevada due to the commission’s decision. The largest one, with layoffs totaling 550 skilled jobs, will likely be relocated to more sustainably-minded and solar-friendly states. What’s to happen to the remaining 5,350 high paying, skilled jobs if there are no roofs to install solar on? It will be interesting (and disheartening) to see what happens.
As the owner of SunHarvest Solar, I personally had the opportunity to expand my business from Phoenix into the Las Vegas area two years ago. During my business research, I learned that the Hoover Dam is in real trouble because of drought conditions being exasperated by climate change. I learned that “Lake Mead has a 50-50 chance of drying up by 2021, given current trends,” according to Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Hoover Dam serves 8 million people with clean power, but that number has been 25% less since 2000. I learned that the use of Natural Gas is up to 63% of all power production as of 2014, and Nevada has a Renewable Portfolio Standard to be 25% Renewables by 2025. Due to the environmental conditions coupled with the unpredictable politics and power of the utility monopoly, my conclusion was that Nevada was not a sustainable market to enter with confidence. As I receive calls from Nevada solar industry executives looking to liquidate solar panels from their supply, I feel relieved we had some foresight in the matter.
Now that solar companies are fleeing Nevada and will soon potentially begin filing for bankruptcy. Arizona must learn from this example. And pronto. The Arizona Corporation Commission has plans to discuss and debate similar proposals on their 2016 agenda. Arizona Public Service (APS) is seeking a similar regressive fee in front of the Commission of our elected officials. A similar fee was implemented by SRP in 2015, and it had a comparable result on the solar industry to that of what just happened in Nevada. Solar is all but dead within SRP territory until battery back up supplies catch up with demand, which is disconcerting in one of the sunniest states in the country.
Bait and switch is a fitting way to describe what happened in Nevada, and what could easily happen in Arizona if we don’t have prudence. This is happening right under our noses. The utility and the state lure private investment in solar through incentives and rebates, then retroactively impose a tax that kills any possible return on investment. This is monopoly interest colluding with government at the expense of the public, the environment, and a thriving industry trying to save people and planet.
From a business perspective, how does it make sense for anyone to produce clean power at wholesale cost to a utility company, and allow the utility to profit from said investment? This is unconscionable.
The decision by the Nevada Public Utility Commission, and the looming decisions in front of the Arizona Corporation Commission this year, leave Nevadans and Arizonans with one big question. Will the state place the financial security of regular citizens above the financial interests of utility monopolies?
If the answer is no, we will experience more loss. The working class who lose their jobs. The retired seniors on fixed incomes who included solar in their retirement plans will lose out on returns. The local small business who invested in solar to lessen astronomical summer cooling bills will lose too. Not to mention the further destruction of the environment and reliance on energy sources that contribute to climate change. We would all lose. Except for the utilities, their shareholders and perhaps the politicians who benefit from their dark money contributions.
We as Arizona residents must remain vigilant, active, and engaged if we wish to maintain a vibrant solar industry. What happened in Nevada should serve as a substantial and prophetic warning to be proactive verses reactive in this matter. As someone who has passionately worked to grow the solar industry in Arizona since 2008, I see the value we provide on a daily basis. Solar is the path forward in the sunshine state -- but only if and when the people help illuminate the path for our elected leaders and hold them accountable.