Dale Matz and his wife skipped vacations and saved up to put solar panels on the roof of their Las Vegas home two years ago. They planned to retire in a few years and considered it an investment for their future, and the planet’s. They were motivated both by the promise of low electricity bills and a chance to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint and “make a better world for our kids and grandkids.”
Protest outside the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. By Dale Matz
Their good intentions were foiled late last month when the Nevada Public Utility Commission changed the deal that customers with solar panels have with the state’s big utility, NV Energy. At the request of NV Energy, monthly fees paid by rooftop solar customers will increase from $13 to nearly $40 by 2020. And the utility will slash its reimbursement to customers for each unit of energy they feed to the grid, from about 11 cents to less than 3 cents by 2020, which could add up to hundreds of dollars per year for customers with solar panels.
It was the biggest rollback of rooftop solar incentives in the nation. Most notably, Nevada is the first state not to grandfather in people like Matz who’ve already invested in rooftop solar. Although an estimated 17,000 people have installed panels, the revised rules, which will be phased in, will apply to to them as well as new rooftop solar customers.
Under the old rules, Matz expected to recoup the $22,000 he spent over about 12 years. Under the new rules, he calculates that he’ll never recoup it.
It’s not that NV Energy is anti-solar. The company owns several utility-scale solar projects and has contracts to buy from others. But electric companies traditionally get revenue from selling electricity, and don’t earn profit on the power produced by their customers. “The utility can own and earn profits on utility-scale projects. Rooftop installations are more of a threat to their business model,” says Dan Bakal of Ceres, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy.