Xcel, solar installers agree to rebate phaseout
DENVER — Xcel Energy Inc. and solar-power installers have reached an agreement that would keep a popular rebate program alive, at least for now.
The agreement, which the two sides are asking the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to approve Friday, calls for allowing another $97.3 million to be paid out in Xcel’s Solar Rewards rebate program over the next 10 years for up to 60 megawatts of solar power. Currently, rebates are paid up front.
After that, the program will go away.
“The incentives is the biggest blow to a lot of businesses, which would put this program out of their reach because they depend on that up-front rebate,” said Lou Villaire, sales manager for Alasta Solar Center, 2923 North Ave., in Grand Junction. “Be that as it may, altogether I think we did reasonably well because Xcel cannot simply with a wave of their hand freeze the program.”
The two sides sparred last month after Xcel dramatically scaled back the program, saying costs for solar panels had decreased to the point that its rebate and a federal rebate were covering 75 percent of the panels and installation costs instead of the 50 percent intended when it was created after voters approved Amendment 37 in 2004.
That amendment required power suppliers to obtain 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015, a standard that since has been raised to 30 percent.
Like other utilities, the amendment allowed Xcel to collect a 2 percent surcharge from its 1.1 million customers, which has amounted to about $178 million. Nearly all of that money has gone toward the rebate.
Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said the agreement would allow consumers to install more solar panels and still get a rebate, while giving the power supplier a clearer time line for meeting goals set under the amendment.
She said the agreement doesn’t include the 43 megawatts of solar power the utility already has committed to including in the rebate program this year.
Aguayo said the agreement calls for a step-down system that would lower the rebate gradually, allowing the program to cycle itself out of existence as was intended when it was put in place. She said that likely would take about a year.
“What this new outlook does for Solar Rewards and Xcel Energy, as well as solar installers, is we now have specific guidelines as to how much is available at each step,” she said. “This is a road map for all parties involved. We will know how much money is paid out at each level, so installers can know what they can sell.”