LAS VEGAS — Hundreds of advocates for rooftop solar installations gathered outside NV Energy headquarters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, toting signs and chanting in protest of a state cap on how many solar customers can sell energy back to utility companies.
Rally organizers hope to convince lawmakers to raise the limit and are urging NV Energy to drop its opposition to the concept. If that doesn’t happen, organizers say, the state will hit the existing cap within the year and the nearly 6,000 rooftop solar jobs in Nevada could vanish.
“NV Energy is on the verge of eliminating the rooftop solar industry in Nevada,” said Bryan Miller, co-chairman of Alliance for Solar Choice, which includes major rooftop solar installation companies.
The conflict centers around net metering, which allows people who have solar installations at their homes to send excess energy back to the utility company for bill credit. Nevada has a 3 percent cap on the amount of participants.
NV Energy representatives say they’re supportive of renewable energy but fear that net metering could benefit solar users while passing additional cost to traditional customers.
Solar advocates point to a study commissioned by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and published last year that predicted net metering in Nevada would produce either a cost benefit for traditional customers or a “nearly neutral” cost to them in 2015 and 2016.
The utility disagreed with the study, saying the cost of producing solar energy has dropped since the calculations were made. NV Energy officials said the company can generate the same amount of energy through large utility-grade solar plants at half or one-third the cost it pays to people with rooftop installations.
The result is that customers who don’t have personal solar installations would bear a $400 million cost for customers who do, according to Stacey Kusters, NV Energy’s vice president of renewable energy.
Gov. Brian Sandoval echoed concerns about a potential cost-shift.
“I don’t think there’s any question of my being supportive of renewable energy,” he told The Associated Press last week. “My number one concern is the ratepayers of Nevada. We have to ensure ... that it wouldn’t have a negative impact on ratepayers.”
Miller said his group wouldn’t mind the Public Utilities Commission conducting a new study to make better calculations. But in the meantime, Miller said he’d like to see the cap raised to 10 percent or so, allowing new installations to go in after Nevada hits the existing cap.
He said the utility has been unwilling to raise the cap before a new study is complete.
“In the meantime, they shut the industry down,” he said.