Solar energy was dealt a serious blow in Nevada in late December, but customers are striking back.
NV Energy, a large public utility company serving much of Nevada, adopted new policies and pricing structures that are putting serious dents in the wallets of solar power customers in Nevada.
This action has sparked protests from everyone from residential users to the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Consumer agencies and state legislators believe that NV Energy and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (NPUC) may have colluded in implementing this potentially illegal rate hike.
And now, two solar energy customers have filed a class action lawsuit against NV Energy. All industry eyes are on Nevada, as the court’s decision could impact how other states handle solar customers.
Nevada’s New Plan for Solar Customers
NV Energy customers with grid-tied photovoltaic systems previously paid a monthly surcharge fee of $12 per month, for the stated purpose of offsetting the costs of grid maintenance and upgrades.
The new fee structure, however, bumps that amount up to a whopping $40 per month over the next five years.
The significant public outcry isn’t just about the monthly fee, though. NV Energy also changed its net metering price structure.
Previously, homeowners were paid the full retail rate for any excess electricity that their systems produced and sent back to the grid. Under the new plan, solar customers will soon get paid far less — only a third of the retail price.
So, it’s no surprise that people are angry, because the new fee structure doesn’t apply just to new solar customers. Homeowners who invested in solar energy years ago are also subject to the new arrangement.
And this has lots of people crying foul.
Basis of the Class Action Lawsuit
When suit filers John Bamforth and Stanley Schone invested in solar energy, they expected that, over time, their photovoltaic systems would pay for themselves. Now, with the new NV Energy policies, they won’t see nearly as much savings.
The class action lawsuit, which includes nearly 15,000 Nevada solar energy customers, alleges that NV Energy provided false information to the state regulator, creating an unfair advantage in an effort to maintain a monopoly in the state. The lawsuit also accuses the utility company of committing consumer fraud, contending that customers who purchased photovoltaic systems under the previous fee system were misled.
The lawsuit alleges deceptive and unfair trade practices, price discrimination, rate fixing, conspiracy and negligence. Meanwhile, Nevada politicians, presidential candidates and consumer advocacy groups have petitioned NPUC to reconsider its decision.
The Bigger Picture
Although a court decision may be a long way off, the NV Energy case is being watched carefully all across the United States.
NV Energy is a for-profit utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy. It holds the monopoly on the state’s electric utility customers. Energy experts believe this may be the turning point where the for-profit utility model, already infamous for its rate hikes, may meet its match with the growing popularity of solar energy.
Intermountain Wind & Solar serves residential and commercial customers throughout the Intermountain West, including Nevada. We will be monitoring this situation closely, and we’ll bring you updates as we receive them.
Contact us today for more information, and to learn more about net metering and other regulations that affect solar energy use in your area.