Consumers should resist Xcel plan to cut solar production in Colorado
The battle cry for Coloradans fighting to continue the expansion of rooftop solar power should be, “Remember 2009!”
That was the year solar industry advocates in Colorado led a successful campaign against an Xcel Energy proposal to reduce solar rewards rebates to homeowners to less than one cent per kilowatt hour. The company even wanted to charge customers with solar panels a fee for delivering their electricity at night.
Chastised by the outrage of solar advocates and ordinary citizens, and stymied by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s rejection of its proposal, Xcel initiated the more consumer-friendly net-metering plan it now seeks to change.
Under Colorado’s net-metering program, the meter runs backward on sunny days as excess electricity generated by rooftop systems pours into the electrical grid. Xcel is required to buy the excess power at the same rate it charges the consumer for electricity used in the home.
If Xcel has its way with the PUC, the meter may not run backward much longer for new rooftop solar arrays in Colorado. The company wants to pay so little for the power rooftop solar generates that it will no longer be economically advantageous for consumers to go solar.
The sale of excess power to the company enables consumers to build credits in warmer months that can be used to reduce higher winter bills. These electricity sales also help homeowners amortize the cost of their solar systems.
Not only is net metering popular with consumers, it has been advantageous to the energy companies, as well, by reducing the need for new “dirty energy” coal and gas plants, replacing the need with cheap and clean solar. It also reduces the burden on the electrical grid by producing and distributing electricity locally.
But Xcel’s effort is not an isolated event. Denver Post writer Mark Jaffee reported, “Across the country utilities are questioning the cost of incentives for rooftop solar. Xcel Energy has just raised the issue in Colorado, but the battle is already in full-swing in Arizona,” and a number of other states with similar solar requirements.
Unlike states proposing to end their solar programs entirely, so far, Xcel has only proposed to open “an honest discussion about costs and benefits” of the net-metering program in Colorado.
But, since Xcel claims the benefits of rooftop solar are insufficient to cover the cost of the program, the company threatens substantial reductions to its solar reward program unless changes it wants in the net-metering program are made.
Xcel’s numbers fail to support its financial hardship claims. The real purpose of its “shady math and backroom tactics,” the Coalition for Solar Rights charges, is to abolish the net-metering program entirely.
The Solar Energy Industries Association accuses Xcel of “using a contested study that has not undergone public or commission review to make its case against the successful solar policy.”
The Vote Solar Initiative put it more bluntly:
“The Colorado arm of Xcel just proposed a plan that could soon make solar a bad deal for customers in its service territory. Xcel is attempting to try to roll back the state’s successful net-metering policy, which allows solar customers to get credit on their energy bills for power they deliver to the grid.”
In its appeal to the PUC to cut the price paid for solar energy added to the grid, Xcel is offering essentially the same deal the state rejected in 2009.
Predictably, consumers are again rejecting Xcel’s offer. Colorado Energy News reports, “More than 20 trade groups, renewable energy advocacy and environmental organizations, and solar businesses oppose the idea, which they contend will essentially decimate the industry” in states that have adopted net-metering programs.
If the disagreement only involved money, a compromise might be possible. But distributed generation itself, as opposed to centralized power plants, has become the issue for the industry.
Colorado voters confirmed their allegiance to solar in the last election by extending the state’s renewable energy standard to previously exempt rural electric cooperatives.
In 2009, solar advocates pressured Xcel to work with the Colorado Solar Industry Association and the Governor’s Energy Office to revise its plan to phase out rooftop solar.
Repeating that success in 2014 will keep Colorado on course to reduce big energy’s footprint, while affording consumers the opportunity to save money as they save the planet.