New PAC challenges ballot measure to restore prior solar rates

SolarCity workers practice installing solar panels at the company’s new facility in Las Vegas.

A political action committee is asking a Nevada court to disqualify a ballot measure, supported by the solar industry, that aims to restore prior rates for customers, according to a lawsuit filed in Carson City today. The challenge argues that the proposed measure does not meet the standards of a referendum or adequately inform voters of its effects.

Last month, a group backed by SolarCity and Nevada-based rooftop solar installers proposed a referendum that would invalidate the legal basis for a controversial Public Utilities Commission ruling that solar advocates argue crippled the industry here. The three-member panel increased bills for solar customers by tripling a fixed service charge over 12 years. The commission also slashed the value of credits customers earn by generating excess electricity under a program known as net metering.

The challenge, filed in district court by a PAC called the Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness, says the ballot measure is an improper use of the referendum process. It would amend the law, the PAC alleges, something that can only be done through the initiative process.

This was done by organizers of the referendum, the legal action alleges, to avoid seeking legislative approval for the changes they are seeking. Referendums effect an immediate change of law, whereas initiatives must go through a process involving the Legislature.

“Put simply, this is an effort to short cut the proper process to effectuate the interests of the (organizers) more quickly,” lawyers for the newly formed PAC argue in their opening brief. “This improper use of the referendum process must not be allowed.”

Lawyers also argued that the referendum's proposed description for voters is misleading.

A referendum organizer dismissed the claims as “legal technicalities,” arguing that the law asks voters to disapprove certain sections of law, which is allowed in a referendum.

“Our referendum proposes to strike out those portions of Senate Bill 374 that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada inappropriately relied on to eliminate net metering and destroy rooftop solar,” Bob Greenlee, a spokesperson for the referendum and Bring Back Solar Alliance, wrote in a statement. “We are confident that our proposed filing is a legal and proper way to let the people fix the mess the Public Utilities Commission has made.”

He said the lawsuit is a move to delay the process for getting the measure certified.