Carson City judge: Solar owners weren’t properly notified their rates would be changed
September 15, 2016
Just days before the Public Utilities Commission meets to vote on letting existing rooftop solar owners keep their existing rates, Carson District Judge James Wilson issued an order Monday saying the new rates are invalid because the PUCN didn't properly notify those homeowners it planned to change the rates.
But noting state law bars the court from substituting its judgment for that of the commission, Wilson sent the issue back to the PUCN.
The commission was sued by Vote Solar after it cut back the amount solar owners get reimbursed for the energy their systems feed back into the electric grid and tripled the fixed fee they pay to NV Energy. They argued those changes eliminate any financial advantage to having a solar system.
The commission made the changes after agreeing with advocates all other NV Energy customers were subsidizing those with rooftop solar systems to the tune of $16 million a year.
Wilson said the PUCN decision was invalid because the public notice of that net metering hearing failed to say it would be changing the rate schedule. Quoting a 1999 Nevada Supreme Court ruling involving Southwest Gas, he said that hearing notice, "must be specific enough to alert all interested persons of the substance of the hearing."
He also said the commission can't hear and issue orders on matters not submitted by the applicant — NV Energy in this case.
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"The PUCN notices do not contain, in the purpose-of-the-hearing section or anywhere else, notice that the PUCN would consider changing (Net Metering) customers' rate design," Wilson wrote.
He said net metering customers, have "a constitutional due process and statutory right to know specifically what matters the PUCN will hear and enter orders on."
"The court rightly ruled that the PUCN unfairly changed the rules of the game on existing solar customers without due notice," said Vote Solar spokesman Jessica Scott. "We believe we had a strong legal case for reversing the decision for future solar customers as well and would have appreciated the opportunity to better make that case through oral arguments, which we were not allowed in this case."
Wilson, in his 18-page ruling, said there was no legal argument to support reversing the reduced rates future net metering customers can get.
The PUCN on Friday hears a plan that would grandfather in the old rates for existing net metering customers for the next 20 years.
"The Commission is pleased that the Court affirmed the Commission's Order on all substantive issues related to net energy metering ("NEM") rates," Public Utilities Commission said Wednesday in a written statement. "The Court confirmed that the Commission acted lawfully and that the decision to protect non-NEM customers from unreasonable cost-shifts was based on substantial evidence. The only portion of the Commission's NEM Order that was not affirmed by the Court is the Commission's decision to apply the revised NEM rates to pre-existing NEM customers, for whom the Court found that the Commission did not provide sufficient notice."