July 15, 2016

Las Vegas based data center operator Switch sues Nevada regulators over Solar deal

The lawsuit is the latest dispute that has emerged involving solar energy in Nevada, a state that was an early clean energy supporter.

The owner of some of the world’s largest data centers has sued Nevada regulators and that state’s utility over a solar energy deal that it says led to it being overcharged.

Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch filed a lawsuit this week that alleges that its agreement to buy solar power, partly brokered by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and utility NV Energy (owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway), was unfair, overpriced, and that employees of the state regulator acted inappropriately. The suit, which asks for $30 million in damages, claims fraud, negligence, and conspiracy.

As companies and residents in Nevada increasingly install solar panels, and sometimes unplug from the power grid, the state regulator and NV Energy are trying to figure out how to manage. The utility and the regulator have repeatedly clashed with both companies selling solar panels and customers buying solar panels.

Switch, which has two massive data centers in Nevada, says it started trying to buy solar power from NV Energy in 2011. Its data centers, which sell services to eBay, Zappos and Cisco, are power-hungry facilities that are filled with computers.

Switch says NV Energy ignored its requests to buy solar power, prompting it to file an application in 2014 to disconnect from the grid so that it could seek solar power from other sources like First Solar.

NV Energy said in a statement:

Switch is a very important customer to NV Energy, and given how far we thought we had come over the past two and a half years of working with their team on a variety of issues and opportunities, we are surprised and disappointed with this turn of events. If we are eventually served with the complaint, we will vigorously defend our company and our employees from baseless claims. This isn’t the first time a company has accused the NPUC and NV Energy of colluding.

Late last year, regulators approved a plan to increase the fees and lower the rates that solar customers earn for generating electricity. The new rate structure makes roof-installed solar panels uneconomical in the state, according to solar companies, some of which stopped doing business in Nevada.

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