Nevada's solar debacle reveals a utility industry under stress

Jim Marston

Until recently, Nevada was the darling of America’s booming solar industry. That is, until a legacy electric utility with an interest in fossil fuels lobbied regulators to raise rates for solar customers and chased third-party solar developers such as SolarCity out of the Silver State.

The Nevada power struggle is being played out in a number of locales nationwide where old and ingrained utilities face some difficult questions: How can they compete with new technology when all they know is to sell ever-more energy at ever-higher rates?

How can they incorporate in their business models new energy sources such as rooftop solar that they don’t sell? And how can these power companies recoup the billions of dollars some of them unwisely spent on outdated coal plants?

NV Energy in Nevada played tough. Result: 700-plus workers lost their jobs, 17,000 power customers with solar panels on their roofs will see bills soar, and the state lost a bright solar future.

The Nevada upheaval makes even less sense when utilities in other states are already demonstrating an alternative that works for new energy players as well as old ones.

These utilities get creative by treating energy as a service, not a commodity. And they test out new relationships with their customers. It means they continue to thrive in our changing energy economy without punishing solar customers or slowing our transition to a cleaner future.

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