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Solar Firms Stop Selling Panels In Nevada To Protest State Rule Change


In sunny Nevada, solar panel companies are shutting down operations. It's a protest of sorts because state regulators changed the rules.

Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Across the country, the solar panel business is growing fast thanks to federal and state subsidies that encourage people to switch to renewable forms of electricity.

Here's the rub, though. Every kilowatt from the sun is one less the local utility sells. That leaves the power company with less money to maintain the electricity grid, and solar customers still rely on that grid when the sun isn't shining. That's why Nevada regulators increased a fee for solar customers and reduced how much utilities pay for excess power sold back to the grid.

BRYAN MILLER: It has left our company and other companies no choice but to leave.

BRADY: Bryan Miller is a senior vice president at the solar company Sunrun, and he heads an industry advocacy group. In response to Nevada regulators, both Sunrun and rival SolarCity say they will stop selling and installing new panels in the state. SolarCity says it will lay off 550 employees. Sunrun says it will cut hundreds more. Miller says he hopes regulators countrywide will take notice.

MILLER: And every other state and every other policymaker across the country is going to see that, and they're not going to want to follow the path that Nevada has gone.

BRADY: Last summer, Nevada lawmakers directed regulators to phase out the estimated $16 million a year in subsidies solar customers receive. Solar advocates say the political influence of Nevada's largest utility NV Energy is behind the change.

In a statement, the utility says the increased rates will be phased in over five years and will not bring in any additional profits. David Owens is executive vice president at Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities. He believes what Nevada is doing is a question of fairness because if solar customers don't play to use the grid, that leaves everyone else to pick up the tab.

DAVID OWENS: We don't want to have one group of customers having costs shifted to them because other customers refuse to pay for the infrastructure that's necessary.

BRADY: Solar advocates say they provide other benefits to everyone such as reduced pollution. Even though solar companies have shut down operations in Nevada, they're not done fighting. They'll be back before state regulators today, asking them to reconsider the new rates for solar customers. If regulators refuse, as they're expected to do, the solar companies say they'll take the issue to court.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.