Solar firms say end to rebates disabling

Solar panel installers in Grand Junction and around the state are battling Xcel Energy Inc. over a plan to curtail a rebate program that was designed to boost the industry.

Installers say the company pulled the rug out from under them when it ended part of that program earlier this month, then asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to reduce it further.

But Xcel officials said the rebate program has done more than it was designed to do, and the utility is only trying to bring balance back to it.

“This was a premeditated move on Xcel’s part that was made in bad faith,” said Lou Villaire, sales manager for Atlasta Solar Center, 2923 North Ave. “It’s likely the PUC, if they don’t fully reverse the decision, they’re going to reinstate the rebates. It’s a matter of how soon and to what extent they will be reinstated to where they were.”

The rebate was designed to offset the high cost of panels, but it also was to gradually diminish as costs came down.

Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said Amendment 37, approved in 2004, required companies to generate more electricity from renewable sources and allowed them to add a 2 percent surcharge on people’s bills to pay infrastructure costs.

He said Xcel agreed to use some of the surcharge on rebates to encourage Coloradans to install panels.

“What has happened is all that money that’s been collected, and as of the end of last year that’s about $178 million, virtually all that money’s gone to pay the incentives on the Solar Rewards Program,” Stutz said.

“From that program, we have always tried to maintain a 50-50 level where the customer pays for about 50 percent of the installation and the equipment, and the incentives pay 50 percent.”

Stutz said that worked for awhile, but an increased demand dropped the cost. As a result, state and federal rebates are covering much more.

A home installation that cost about $20,000 would actually cost consumers only $11,200 after rebates. Under the old plan, that same installation would have cost home- owners $8,045, Stutz said.

Villaire and Jeff Evans, sales manager for Simplicity Solar, 747 W. White Ave., said if the PUC doesn’t reinstate the program as it was, it will lead to a loss in business that will force installers to lay off workers.



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