Burying Solar Not A Noble Cause

  • Published on October 12th, 2014

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Marc Antony, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2

By Chip Martin, Special To RGBNevada Public Utility Commissioner David Noble is fighting an ignoble fight to destroy the solar industry in his state.

Marc Antony’s famous speech (as told to William Shakespeare) echoed in my ears when I read what Nevada’s Public Utilities Commissioner David Noble is trying to do to the solar industry in his state.

As usual, the battle in the Silver State is over net-metering. According to Sean Whaley of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

A draft order proposed by [Noble] recommends that the Nevada Legislature remove any statutory restraints on the commission’s authority to accurately assign net-metering costs and benefits to the appropriate ratepayers.

Translation from the original weaselspeak: Noble wants the unrestrained ability to let utilities tax the hell out of the solar industry and bring it to its knees. 

Is there nothing utilities won’t do to try and kill what is as serious an existential threat to their existence as they’ve ever faced? And does Noble think Nevada’s citizens aren’t paying attention?

Noble’s order directly contradicts the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) own study. Read that sentence again. Then go get some ibuprofen — I’ll wait.

Back? Yes, in July, the PUC published a thoroughly-vetted study, with input from NV Energy, PUC staff, Bureau of Consumer Protection and the solar industry. It concluded that the net benefits of Nevada’s net-metered solar and wind energy systems will amount to upwards of $166 million to Nevada ratepayers. In other words, net-metering lowers electricity bills for everyone, not just solar customers, by avoiding costly grid upgrades and other utility costs.

Makes sense, right? If I supply my own clean energy, why would NVE need to spend ratepayer money to build or buy it for me? The report concluded (again quoting Whaley, who quoted the report):

Overall, we do not estimate a substantial cost shift to nonpartipants (due to [net metering] going forward, given the current and proposed to reforms to the program.

Thanks to Commissioner Alaina Burtenshaw, the PUC ultimately adopted a softer variation on this order, acknowledging the success of net metering. But it continued to blissfully ignore the results of its own study (subsidized by ratepayers, by the way) and recommended to the legislature unspecified changes to the state’s net-metering law without any factual basis. The legislature deserves better, less-biased advice from the PUC so, frankly, it should send this recommendation back to the PUC marked “return to sender.”

All the solar stories coming out of Nevada recently have been positive: 

  • Solar supports thousands of  jobs in the state.
  • Solar spurs millions in local private investment (Think about it: Solar customers are spending their own money to build clean generation so that NVE doesn’t have to).
  • We’ve witnessed huge reductions in the price of rooftop solar.

What’s also critical is that solar saves lots of water. For a state suffering from, at press time, a 14-year drought that has brought the Lake Mead Reservoir to its lowest levels in decades (40% capacity). For Las Vegas, which receives 90% of its water supply from Lake Mead (the country’s largest man-made reservoir), the drought is causing grave concern. 

Why on earth would anyone put barriers in the way of an industry offering so many benefits to the state? Especially someone who moonlights as an environmental lawyer like Noble?

My guess is heavy lobbying from the monopolist NV Energy, which currently holds Nevada ratepayers by the you know whats, is trying to scuttle solar’s growth behind the scenes. Actually, it’s really no secret. On top of that, Noble probably had a preconceived notion as to how the study would turn out. When the results went against his expectations he started playing games. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the proposed order had, in fact, been penned by those very lobbyists.

Is Noble a puppet of the utilities? I can’t say that. Nothing in his previous record suggests any such conflict of interest. But Noble’s proposal has left me scratching my head. Regardless, he shouldn’t get a free pass here. 

Something just doesn’t smell right — and the citizens of Nevada, many of whom are benefiting from solar’s explosive growth, should find out what’s really behind Noble’s less-than-noble efforts.

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    • Great for those that can afford it, or with the technical knowledge to keep contractor costs down. We have just gotten to the point where banks recognize grid tied systems as economically viable, but if you start adding batteries, control systems, and backup generation to that loan application it is unlikely to be passed by traditional financing organizations.
      Also to be considered that unless you go really big on your battery storage and have to start using a generator at times in the crowded suburbs it is likely to cause problems with your neighbors. So another increase to the base costs that will cause financing issues.
      Don’t get me wrong, I am all for people cutting off from the utilities and keeping that monthly payment in their pockets, after all I did it myself. But from my experience there are very few with either the technical know how or else the financial capabilities to cut off from the utilities. With the way storage costs are dropping the ability to cut off from the grid is coming for more people, but at this point it isn’t as simple to make that change as you seem to assume.

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