Sandoval: Coalition backed out of agreement not to put rooftop solar on the ballot

Shortly before solar companies were poised to file signatures this week for a petition to undo a controversial regulatory decision, Gov. Brian Sandoval had a news release on his desk. 

It announced an agreement between the solar companies and the state, one that would have allowed the rooftop customers to be grandfathered for 20 years at their current rates and in exchange the Bring Back Solar coalition would drop its initiative to undo a Public Utilities Commission decision to gradually increase so-called net metering rates over 12 years. The pact culminated weeks of clandestine bargaining, with NV Energy participating in the final few days, several sources confirmed.

The release never went out. And on Tuesday, the solar coalition filed twice the number of signatures needed, although a legal challenge is still pending in the high court.

Sources, including the governor's office, say at the eleventh hour Bring Back Solar pulled out of the accord, believing it can win at the ballot and, if necessary, the 2017 session

“When the parties indicated they were close to agreement the governor's office drafted recommended language memorializing what his office had been provided. NV Energy agreed to the terms,” said Mari St. Martin, a spokeswoman for Sandoval. “Unfortunately, Solar City and Sunrun changed course and chose to pursue an expensive ballot measure and further litigation which provides no relief to their customers or certainty to the solar marketplace.”

A spokeswoman for the Bring Back Solar Alliance declined to comment. But Kathleen Drakulich, who represented Sunrun and Solar City under the aegis of The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) in the negotiations, confirmed Wednesday evening the companies “have recently engaged some of the parties in the NEM (net metering) proceedings. Those proceedings surrounded grandfathering, and TASC supports grandfathering. We support it and we want to achieve it.”

Drakulich declined to talk about the actual negotiations or what caused them to fall apart.

In a statement, the utility said: “NV Energy supported a proposed agreement that we believed was in the best interest of all of our customers and the state.  We are disappointed that it didn't happen, but are grateful to Governor Sandoval for his assistance in the effort to compromise with the rooftop solar industry. “

Sandoval’s participation came after lengthy talks between the parties designed to head off the ballot question, sources said. With the Tuesday deadline for submitting signatures looming, the governor got involved after both sides beseeched him to do so.

“In the days leading up to the petition filings, the governor’s office was approached by NV Energy and Solar City saying they had reached an agreement regarding net metering and they wanted to accept and modify the Public Utilities Commission’s decision," St. Martin said. "The governor encouraged Sunrun to participate in the conversation as well.”

Sources tell me the governor believed the parties had reached a deal early this week. He apparently waited for a signed letter of agreement between the parties to get to his office and was prepared to issue the release announcing the compromise, obviating both the court decision and the ballot question.

“The governor, who has always been supportive of the solar industry, is disappointed that the solar companies backed out of the negotiations and failed to reach an accord that would have benefitted all customers by fixing the grandfathering issue and provided certainty to the rooftop solar industry and ratepayers,” St. Martin said.

Sandoval, though, has had an up and down relationship with the solar companies, with some officials accusing him of being in bed with NV Energy because of his friendships with utility lobbyists. The relationship, however, seemed to be repaired earlier this year.

Apparently not.

Nevada's solar battle has attracted national attention, with much of the coverage unfavorable for the state and its regulatory decisions. With the eleventh-hour negotiations having fallen apart, two energy initiatives could come before November voters, one to reverse the Public Utility Commission’s rooftop solar decision and another that would end NV Energy’s utility monopoly.