The largest utility company in Nevada, NV Energy, worked in 2015 to stop any attempt to increase the state’s net metering cap, which solar installers had predicted would be met sometime in 2015. After reaching the solar net metering cap, solar companies anticipate a large drop in demand for distributed solar installations, because the cap would eliminate the ability of solar customers to receive a fair rate of return for distributed solar energy sent back into the electricity grid.
In May 2015, the solar industry and utilities reached a compromise that was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Brian Sandoval. The compromise agreement allows 235 MW of solar to be eligible under net metering through the end of 2015 (instead of the 3% net metering cap) and requires the state public utilities commission to determine the value of solar by the end of the year, which could lead to additional charges for those who install solar.
E&PI submitted a public records request to the Nevada Executive Branch in April 2015, asking for correspondence regarding solar energy between Governor Brian Sandoval and NV Energy, the lobbying firm R&R Partners, and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI). E&PI is still waiting for requested public records from Sandoval’s office.
NV Energy and EEI have both hired R&R Partners, a firm run by Sandoval campaign advisor, Pete Ernaut. R&R Partners received over $500,000 in 2013 from EEI, according to the latest available tax records. In addition, R&R Partners lists Arizona Public Service as a client and, on their website, R&R highlights their public relations campaign to “humanize” APS, which is looking to increase its fixed fee for ratepayers that install solar from $5 to $21.
Ernaut, who has been lobbying for the utility industry since 2001, boasted that he played a key role in allowing the utility industry to compete in a deregulated environment, which critics said could allow the largest electricity users to avoid rate increases.
In addition to having clients in the utility industry and being a campaign advisor for Sandoval, Ernaut is close friends with the Governor. The pair became friends in college and were in the state legislature together before Ernaut served as Sandoval’s campaign director for Attorney General and then as an advisor in his gubernatorial campaign.
Sandoval served the utility industry as an attorney for Utility Shareholders of Nevada, a group that advocated on behalf of utility shareholders. The group was widely viewed as a proxy for management of NV Energy. The Las Vegas Sun reported, “In his new role, Sandoval supported the company’s (NV Energy) bids to raise electricity rates. When the Public Utilities Commission rejected a $110 million rate hike, Sandoval, on behalf of shareholders, joined a lawsuit against the commission, court papers show.”