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tv   Face the State  CBS  February 14, 2016 6:30am-7:00am PST

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into this natural resource. but so far-- in 2016... nearly every rooftop solar company in the silver state... has gone out of business... or packed up and moved out. in this episode-- i'll explain what led to this exodus... and speak with experts in the industry. then-- i'll introduce you to one group working to change the course of solar in nevada. but first-- some background. during the 2015 legislative session... lawmakers passed a bill enabling the public utilities commission of nevada to change the way solar customers are billed... and credited for power. in the past-- those with solar panels on their homes... would be credited for the extra power they generate. it's called "net metering"... and it was a big selling point for solar companies... encouraging residents to make the switch... due to cost savings in the long run. but because this is an expense for energy companies... there has been a cap on the number of nevadans who can be part of the program. the solar industry has been pushing to raise-- or eliminate-- that cap. nv energy has claimed that doing so would end up passing costs on
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it also claims that the current structure is forcing non-solar users to subsidize solar customers. now-- enter the public utilities commission... which was tasked with coming up with a revised plan. in december-- the three-person commission... decided to cut the credits that solar customers get for their extra power... and charge them an increased service fee... on a graduated scale over the next four years. while proponents of this decision say it is fair for all involved... it has resulted in most solar companies... large and small... closing up shop in nevada. i want to stress-- when planning for this episode... i reached out to the public utilities commission... and n-v energy... to try to get their perspectives on the decision... and find out more about their process and the research behind it. both entities declined the invitation to come on the show. but-- the invitation stands... if and when they want to weigh in. coming up on face the state... i'll sit down with the owner of a local solar company... to find out how this change in policy is affecting his business... that's
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arianna bennett: welcome back to face the state, i'm arianna bennett, thank you for staying with us. well as i mentioned earlier rooftop solar companies all over nevada are calling it quits after the change in net metering and service charges. well hamilton solar based right here in reno is one of those companies. reid hamilton, founder of hamilton solar, is here now with me to talk about that. reid thank you so much for coming on the show. reid hamilton: hey thanks for having us. bennett: okay so for those not familiar just tell us a little about hamilton solar and how long it's been around? hamilton: sure so hamilton solar was founded out of my dad's development company which had division which is a combination of both southern and northern nevada and
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our employees. bennett: now rewinding just a little bit, how was business, how was the solar climate in nevada prior to this decision? hamilton: for the first time in about 7 years we we were feeling really good about where solar was going both locally as well as federally. the 30% federal tax credit had just been extended for five years, we had a five year window for us in solar that's like the longest time we've ever seen. and so we were starting to celebrate. we could really strategically plan for the next couple of years. and then on december 23rd the puc ruled to essentially make solar not financially viable in the state of nevada anymore. bennett: just completely not viable at all? hamilton: yeah i mean so look i always tell you know solar is fantastic but people are going to go solar because it's a really good financial investment. the environmental impact is the cherry on top and we're grateful for that but with all the rulings that have happened as of late, it jus doesn't make financial sense anymore for people to go what i say residential or small commercial solar.
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previously how much interest in residential solar was there? hamilton: i mean we were hiring and growing. we had just launched our vegas operation six months prior. we were doing some installs for some national companies and we had a 300 home backlog which is humungous for us. bennett: wow. hamilton: yeah. bennett: and then what happened? hamilton:? zero. i mean the national companies pulled out, they stopped so obviously they're not signing up any more and so we unfortunately had to you know we'd signed a two year lease on a building down there and we're negotiating how to find our best way to work out of that lease. and then up here like i've said we've been around for a long time and we've done the majority of the schools, the prisons, the - a lot of the stuff that you see around town and we'll still be able to do commercial stuff but residential, what i call the ripple effect that's in our community it's just it's challenging for people to be able to justify why to do that right now with the term of the payback. bennett: now maybe you can
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that is. i guess when this decision came down a lot of us said, gosh you know it seems like solar must have been kind of a fragile industry if this industry could completely kill it right away because it was immediate. i mean as soon as the decision was handed down we were getting press releases from companies saying well we're closing up shop, we're pulling out of nevada completely. so what is the price difference or the cost to customers that's causing them and causing you guys to call it quits on solar? hamilton: so that's the unfortunate thing. the cost we're actually going in the right direction. panel prices are coming down, we're getting more efficient as an industry, we're able to install at a much more affordable cost, okay? and so we're moving in the right direction there. unfortunately what nv energy or puc, i guess that i kind of mix those guys up right now, is what they did is they killed the value of net metering. so right now you pay approximately 10 cents a kilowatt hour for the energy that you purchase. when you add a solar system, you know pre-december 23rd if you produced more energy than you
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10 cents a kilowatt hour. now you're going to receive 3 cents. okay? so absolutely hammered there. and then they're also charging a monthly fee. and we knew a monthly fee was going to be coming because other utilities across the state have started to charge a quote on quote a solar fee. and we get that right? there's some parts of the grid that had been built out and we need to to factor in those costs. and we were anticipating maybe 3 to 5 dollars. well at the end of the day it's going to be about 38 dollars. which like i said it just doesn't make sense. we have a handful of our employees who have solar systems. obviously we work with them, create a great deal, they get to install solar, running the math on this it's it makes more sense for them to unplug their solar system than to keep it plugged in because it's going to cost them more money on that monthly service charge to have a solar system than to not. bennett: wow. so i guess that kind of eliminates the incentive part of the issue too right is that installing the solar ray or the
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kind of expensive input cost and so people expect to make that money back through savings correct? hamilton: absolutely. like i said is the reason that the industry has grown so much, one is awareness right people are starting to realize it's not just for rich people and hippies okay? but also it's it's gonna be somewhere between a 7-10 year payback maybe a 7-12 year payback and call it about a 10% irr. i used to tell people i said hey so long as the sun comes up you're going to get 10% irr. go find that anywhere else. especially in the stock market right now. i felt a lot of confidence saying that. now it's like so long as the sun comes up and the public utility commission and nv energy don't hack you away you're going to get your return. so- bennett: so part of this is also kind of a ethical dilemma for you i would imagine. if someone would come to you now and say i want to put solar on my home, would you feel comfortable doing it? hamilton: no not at all. so we you know this came down on december 23rd was the first that this dramatic impact happened.
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know about springtime and we had to stop everything. you know we were just hiring another crew, and we just said we have to stop. and we told our customers, look even if you wanted to go forward right now we can't, we can't do a system for you because we don't know what the impact's going to be. hamilton: because some of this is uncertainty too. i know i read in the in the decision that rates are also subject to change so it's not like these are nailed down in perpetuity, this could be the case now and 5 years down the road they could change their minds and change to something that's worse or - hamilton: or maybe better right and that's the problem right now is there's no consistency and there's a dramatic loss of trust. you know here's a utility or a puc that for the last ten years is saying hey we're the sunniest state in the nation or one of them, go solar, go solar, we support you. oh shoot you guys are growing way too fast we're going to stop you and not only are we going to stop you but all the 17,000 customers who have signed up
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you signed up for anymore. cuz people are no longer grandfathered in. bennett: do you really think it is an effort to slow the growth of solar because that's not what the message is from the other side? hamilton: i would be i would love to know what the clear message is from the other side. to be honest it's we there's no real strong rationale right and a lot of times the information that we hear is buried in 128 page dockets. well and it's it's a bunch of you know - pardon me for some of my frustration but it's a bunch of attorney talk where it's just like what does any of this mean? right? and we're in the industry and we can't quite figure it out. bennett: okay, well so you've been doing this for several years now, it's kind of become your life blood now you're closing up shop, what does that mean for you? what's next for you? hamilton: i have to reinvent myself. i mean i was actually at the city of sparks today and i was talking to the mayor and he goes what are you going to do now and i said, i don't know. you know i got to find something new. luckily i
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because the impact of these changes doesn't really affect commercial projects and so we can still do that but look i do that with myself and maybe one other person. i don't do that with our team of people at hamilton solar that we've built over the course of the last seven years. bennett: so we're talking permanent loss of jobs here? hamilton: sure, totally. i mean and it's not like we're talking about it, it's happened. those folks that used to work for us are no longer in our office. if you came to our office i mean there's a big for lease sign up right now and this is an office that we put a lot of effort and energy into building up. bennett: if the puc were to change course or if something were to change legislatively or through the ballot measure, would you consider going back into solar or is it just too unstable? hamilton: well when we joke around in the solar industry we call it the solar coaster right? we're trying to break down the doors. we're changing the industries and we know that it's going to be challenging. right? and that's something that you know getting into solar or any whether it's going to be solar, wind, geothermal, any of the type of a newer renewable energy
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love to get back into it. i'm passionate about it. i mean i have a 22 month old son and i want him to have a better future than i did but it doesn't seem that as a nation or as the powers at be are going to put the environment above you know strictly financial reward any time soon. bennett: okay. reid thank you so much for your time, i sure appreciate it. hamilton: hey thank you for giving us a voice, we appreciate it. bennett: yeah. well coming up on face the state i'll sit down with a group of industry professionals to discuss working on changing the face of rooftop
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jjj jjj arianna bennett: welcome back to face the state, i'm arianna bennett. thank you for being
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the public utilities commission made its decision back in december there have been several attempts to stop the changes or to convince them to reconsider. so far the efforts have not been successful and now solar companies may have to turn to the voters. now blake guinn and travis miller are here now to tell us all about the effort going on. thank you both for coming on the show. blake guinn: thank you. travis miller: thank you. bennett: okay so this alliance really has brought together former solar competitors right all into one body, tell us what the ultimate goal is? miller: well the ultimate goal is to bring back net metering rates that allow the homeowners to have an option to install solar again. right now it's just not a viable market with the rates that have been imposed. bennett: now you guys were telling me earlier that as you said it's just not viable. are we going to see pretty much all rooftop residential solar dropping off if this doesn't change? blake guinn: what you'll ultimately see is there's no financial benefit any more to go
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premium, your fixed charge has now tripled and the energy that we produce in excess is now reduced by 75 percent. financially it's not a good investment anymore so people are gonna end up leaving if they haven't already. the state produced over 8700 jobs for solar jobs. there's no more of those. all right? we're seeing companies just up and go. bennett: have you guys personally had to deal with layoffs? miller: we're definitely seeing layoffs. we just lost 19 job positions in our sun works office and that's out of 24. so instead of looking at expanding to 50 or 100 employees over the course of 2016 we've dropped from 24 down to about 5 in the residential market and so it's pretty dramatic. we're doing our best to keep the door open today. guinn: local companies down in southern nevada are closing up shop. solar city, the company i work
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people and that includes local installers, site surveyors, people who take care of the system. southern nevada was the number one solar installation. nevada was the number one solar job per capita in the nation. the loss of jobs is devastating. bennett: now part of the argument from the public utilities commission was that it can't base it's decisions on projected job loss. what do you guys have to say in response to that? travis miller: well they've based their decision on projected future costs of the utility grid that have not been vetted and are there in serious discrepancies in those calculations and they simply don't match the calculations performed by any of the groups that i work with that show that the net metering is the net benefit to the entire community, all members of the
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being involved. bennett: well they say that and i you know this is a difficult fact to verify but they say that net metering is ending up hurting traditional energy users that they're actually having to subsidize solar users because of the increase in use fees that solar users aren't paying. is that is there truth to that from your standpoint? guinn: solar provides a net benefit for all people. so the real idea of solar is that during on demand peak that's when solar generation is at its highest. so what we're doing is we're eliminating the need for the utility to provide expensive power during that time when solar home owners like myself can provide my neighbors cheap clean power. it also reduces the need to build extra infrastructure which we pay through our utility bills. bennett: so you think that it ends up breaking even? guinn: sure it's a wash. so i mean we're benefitting our community
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state. nevadans have overwhelmingly wanted to go solar. we've seen that with over 17,000 installed residents. bennett: so from your perspective why was this decision made to begin with? guinn: so nv energy is a monopoly. this is the first time that they're ever faced any type of competition so for them it's a net loss in profit. now as a utility they're guaranteed 10% net profit and solar is actually cutting into those overall profits. so while we're helping out our community, nevadans are choosing to produce their own clean power, nv energy as a monopoly is now anting to put a stop to that. bennett: okay well the solar companies have banded together. they're kind of not going quietly in this situation so tell me about the efforts. what's being done right now to change the outcome? miller: so in northern nevada we formed the great basin solar coalition. it consists of a large majority of the local smaller businesses that have been installing solar in the
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hamilton solar, sun works, black rock solar, independent power company, alternative energy solutions, sierra solar - they've all they're all the-the-the providers that have serviced the northern nevada industry for the history of the market in our area and so we've all been in competition for with each other for a long time and now we're coming together to kind of get the message out that something has to change. guinn: down in southern nevada we've collected 55,000 ballots, signatures, for hopefully a ballot referendum. ultimately what we would like to do is go back, put the vote to the people to undue the unjust taxes and rate increases that the puc ha put on the people. ultimately going back to the old net metering. if we extend the cap that's great but nevadans would like to see that cap
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removed well economic growth can happen. jobs can happen again. it's something that the state needs. bennett: and i understand that northern nevada great basin coalition is in support of the ballot referendum also? miller: we are definitely in support. we-we joined them at the filing at the secretary of state's office down in carson city a few weeks ago and we're really hoping that this awareness raising can really maybe put some pressure on our legislators to call a special session. they have an opportunity to really solve this problem right now instead of letting the industry be destroyed and have it be something that is dealt with later on through these ballot initiatives and future legislative sessions. so now is the time for them to act. bennett: so specifically what would voters be asked to decide on this november? what would be on that referendum? guinn: so we would ask the voters to say no on the ballot. and that no would undue the puc's decision for rooftop solar. bennett: then it would just automatically revert back to the old net metering system? guinn: right. i would be in law that we
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metering rules. bennett: would that then be binding so that the following legislative session couldn't go in and state another bill giving the puc power again to make another change? miller: i think that the petition will remove verbiage from sb 374 that was passed by this last legislation that was used to create this new rate tariff and so any legislature is always going to have an option to come back in and change things that's that's their job but it's much better if they address the problem now. it's going to be a lot easier if they come and-and save the industry. if they wait til the next legislative session, all of the companies will be out of business, we'll all be gone. and there's the confidence in the solar market is gone. there's a chill throughout the market. we're seeing commercial jobs that aren't even affected by these rates cancelling their projects because they're afraid they might be next on the chopping block. bennett: yeah. we definitely don't want to see a shrinking of
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isn't on the table any more but earlier the coalition had called for calling a special session of the legislature. is that something that's still on the table? guinn: absolutely. so a special session would ultimately be the right decision right now. it's a quick fix for this problem. we're seeing southern nevadans, northern nevadans. the support is behind this. so i mean with the 55,000 signatures that we've received it's more than enough to let our leaders know that this is the right thing to do. i think that our leaders have seen that he job growth, right, i mean that's what this is. it's all about job growth and competition. the freedom to choose where you want to get your power from. so this is something that i think that they're understanding, they're getting more information on it as they meet with constituents. bennett: okay, what would be the minimum required to keep solar companies alive and you
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going back to the original form but if there were a compromise what would be the minimum that you guys would ask for? miller: my opinion is that the net metering customer needs to stay on the same rate schedule that they are currently which is the otherwise applicable rate schedule. it ties their rates directly to exist-everyone else's' rates and really gives the protection of the heard. it keeps everybody on the same level. what the new rate schedule that they've announced now kind of allows this the net metering section to be treated vastly differently than every other rate pair in the state and that's what causes the chilling effect in the market. no one's confident that they won't be targeted further in this and so- bennett: okay. real quick because we don't have a ton of time left, what about grandfathering? is that something that you guys support? guinn: i fully support it. so i myself am just not just a solar
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owner. so my wife and i we bought our first home back in 2014 and we installed solar on our home. we did it to save money and it also invests in our energy future. so i was encouraged by my government and the state to look forward and move forward toward solar. now without that i mean my rates are gonna increase, i don't know what my payment is going to be but it's going to be a lot higher. for the people that made that investment, that jump, that leap of faith to do this, it's the right thing to do. to go back and say hey we encourage you to do this, let's go back and make sure that those people initially are taken care of. bennett: okay we just have about a minute left so we have to keep it quick but say this decision stands hypothetically. is it possible that solar will rekindle in the future just under maybe a different set of standards? miller: the utilities scale market is still open for nv
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plants and that seems to be the direction they would like to to go. but with the structure that's in place now the homeowner is pushed out of the market. bennett: okay. guinn: solar scale utility for them to build it, that is still feasible. but residential rooftop solar, without a change in the rates it's just the investment for somebody to make that is just not there anymore. bennett: okay if they want to get any more information on this, the viewers, where would you direct them? and as well. and there's just a lot of information out there. bennett: okay with about 30 seconds left anything else you message? miller: i'd just like to say this is a bipartisan issue. you kwon the people in nevada overwhelmingly support solar. a recent poll said 89% of nevadans support homeowner's rights to have solar energy. a vast
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support. so this is a good opportunity for our legislators to come together on a topic they can all agree on and support their constituents. bennett: okay thank you both so much for coming on the show- guinn: thank you so much. but for more information on all of this you head to our website that's i will post both of the websites they mentioned before. thank you so much for being with us. we'll see you
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a tradition for generations >> osgood: good morning. i'm charles osgood and this is "sunday morning." as you may have heard, supreme court just sis antonin scalia died yesterday at the age of 79. martha teichner will have more on his life and on what his passing means for the court in just a few minutes. we'll also be taking time to observe this st. valentine's day. but only after a bit of northern exposure cold as it is in much of the country. can't be cold enough for the creatures lee cowan will take us to visit. >> they are majestic and adorable and terrifying, all rolled into one. polar bears are a rare sight for most of us, but not if you make the trip north to churchill, manitoba, as we did. >> is it safe to walk around churchill? >> i say it's safe to walk around churchill in the day. i wouldn't say so at night.


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