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Well, If You Ask Me: The Sun's Going Down in Nevada

By Dano T. Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 30, 2016

Boy, the state government and utility commission of Nevada sure know how to kill some jobs! In the most recent installment of the corporate fossil fuel utility attack on renewable energy, Nevada just pulled the plug on viable Net Metering for solar energy, thus all but killing the nascent solar industry there.

Here’s the word from GreenTech Media on the decision from December:

“The Nevada Public Utility Commission voted unanimously in favor of a new solar tariff structure on Tuesday that industry groups say will destroy the Nevada solar market, one of the fastest-growing markets in the country.

The decision increases the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers, and gradually lowers compensation for net excess solar generation from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity, over the next four years. The changes will take effect on January 1 and will apply retroactively to all net-metered solar customers.

The broad application of the policy sets a precedent for future net-metering and rate-design debates. To date, no other state considering net-metering reforms has proposed to implement changes on pre-existing customers that would take effect right away. Changes are typically grandfathered in over a decade or more.

“While the people of Nevada have consistently chosen solar, the state government today decided to take that choice from them, and damage the state’s economy,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.

In July, NV Energy proposed reducing the net-metering credit by roughly half — to 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from the current 11.6 cents — to better reflect the cost of serving solar customers. The plan would have established a three-part structure made up of a monthly basic service charge, a demand charge and an energy charge.

According to The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), NV Energy’s proposed rate would amount to a $40 monthly fee for most solar customers, who typically save $11 to $15 per month on their electricity bills, thereby eliminating all savings.”

As a radical, I can’t say I love SolarCity particularly. As Elon Musk’s cousins venture into the solar economy, it is a leasing based model instead of ownership, with lots of the benefits going to the company with a lesser upfront cost to customers for installation.

But, “green” jobs are “green” jobs and the solar market in sunny Nevada was booming! Whatever the faults of Solar City’s capitalist owners, it’s the solar workers who’re suffering at the hands of this policy change.

“Nevada recently jumped to the 10th largest state market for installed residential solar capacity, up from 18th largest at the end of 2014. If the solar industry in the state shuts down, Nevada stands to lose approximately 6,000 jobs.

Amid the policy turmoil, SolarCity opened a 13,000-square-foot training center in Las Vegas last month that will house large-scale models of different types of roofs. The facility is intended to train employees from Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Arizona. At publication time, SolarCity had not responded to a request for comment on whether or not the PUC decision would affect the center.”

Oh, except now they have responded…you can read about it here as well as the ongoing struggle over the grandfathering clause for folks who already have solar installed and are looking to get ripped off by the state of Nevada on behalf of wealthy corporate fossil fuel utilities.

“Solar companies say the new policy effectively kills Nevada’s rooftop solar market. Several companies have already been forced to shut down operations there. SolarCity, the largest solar installer in the state, was forced to close all operations, laying off 550 workers and shuttering a new training center.

“There are no jobs to train at the center for,” said Chandler Sherman, public affairs manager for SolarCity.”

“It will destroy the rooftop solar industry in one of the states with the most sunshine…There is so much wrong with the decision,” said SolarCity CEO Lydon Rive. “The one beneficiary of this decision would be NV Energy, whose monopoly will have been protected.

This article goes on to say,

“Residential solar customers are not the only threat to the profits of NV Energy.

A consortium of casinos and businesses is looking to leave NV Energy’s grid and start generating their own power, saying they’re being placed at a competitive disadvantage because they’re paying more for energy than their business rivals in nearby states. The state Public Utilities Commission has said it would charge hefty fees — $27 million in the case of Las Vegas data center Switch — to let industrial ratepayers leave the system.”

Clearly this utilities are scared, scared to lose our money. Even an article from an investor website has this to say:

“The centralized electric utilities are doing everything in their power to impede the growth of decentralized energy generation, which ironically should only accelerate the utilities’ eventual collapse.

A confluence of factors, including the aforementioned utility resistance to decentralized energy generation, and the rapid technological progress of energy storage should make the utility death spiral a probable outcome.

The long-term outlook for the centralized electric utility industry looks bleak in light of the industry’s general resistance to change.”

As a Comrade, IWW Environmental Unionist Caucus organizer Steve Ongerth (big thanks to him for this whole article!), put it,

“The way I see it: this is a desperate attempt by the capitalist class to stave off the inevitable: the dissolution of the for-profit / capitalist Investor Owned Utility (IOU) model in favor of distributed energy. The anti capitalist response oughta be collectivizing the grid, having that be worker owned.”

Amen! Couldn’t have said that better myself.

The push behind what happened in Nevada is also coming from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch brothers, the standard bearers for the neo liberal corporate fossil fuel based capitalist system.

You can read about ALEC’s position on Net Metering here and here.

These forces are pushing the same bills and policies in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, (which you can read about in the embedded link) Utah and more, and my most frequent topic of conversation West Virginia. You can read about that struggle here as well, were the rules for Net Metering where screwed with last year.

One interesting avenue of reform to combat the corporate fossil fuel utility model is via Community Choice Aggregation, which has been quite successful so far in California amongst other places, even in small town southern Ohio.

While not overly revolutionary in and of itself, when coupled with some other things, it can become quite an interesting model for a distributed generation future, owned by us. What about using CCA to support small, decentralized efforts like Solar cooperatives? These cooperatives, in which neighborhoods go into together to use bulk purchasing power to get solar equipment, do energy efficiency upgrades and more to create small solar gardens are cool, but also not going to radically change the system in and of themselves. But, what if you have a CCA for a city like New York, which after helping to incentivize and build many small solar gardens across every borough could then set up an agreement to purchase all of this power for the city, which in bulk could fulfill a large portion of our energy needs? Energy which would then not only be solar, but also be owned by and produced by the people of the city who would be using it, possibly with a revitalized manufacturing sector with worker owned solar panel construction and battery storage construction facilities. For as soon as cost efficient grid scale battery storage is online, solar has won the battle with fossil fuel corporate utilities.

On a much broader visioning scale, I would love to companies like Con Edison, New York City’s utility, eventually not just municipalized like the fight that Boulder, Colorado is currently having, but turned into an electric coop owned by its users in New York.

Like a large scale TVA type project in an urban area, hopefully done better and more democratically. New York already has some small rural electric coops, so part of the infrastructure is even there already.

This could help prevent some of the political whims and maneuvering that comes with just regular municipalization, and hopefully make for a not only more democratic system but one that is economically beneficial to its new owners/producers.

Regardless, the future is wide open right now, so either we fight for just, sustainable and equitable visions of a democratic clean energy sector, or we keep allowing the corporate fossil fuel utility companies to push laws to slow their obsolescence and keep us as ratepayers on the hook to foot their bill.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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