Yesterday (Dec. 11) a crowd of hundreds gathered in Denver's chilly noon chanting “Fair credit!” and other slogans as they delivered a petition with nearly 30,000 signatures to Xcel’s Colorado headquarters calling for Xcel Energy to not gut its net-metering policy as is. The utility, the largest in state, filed with Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission to lower the amount it pays for solar power produced by its net-metered customers.
It’s far from the first time solar supporters and Xcel have had an acrimonious battle over rooftop solar in the state and its Solar*Rewards program, though they have agreed in the past. In 2011 the utility wanted to cut the up-front rebates it offered for rooftop solar as well as the net-metered rates it offered for power produced by the systems. Last year the utility stopped paying up-front rebates and began net-metering new solar customers at 15 cents per kilowatt hour produced. In 2013 that has fallen to 11 cents per kilowatt hour for new customers. Under its newest net-metering proposal the rate would fall further.
The company has proposed that the value of solar on its grid is 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour.
The company also wants to change how it incentivizes new rooftop solar. For instance, it wants to include the cost of new installations in its Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment and credit an equal amount to its Electric Commodity Adjustment, essentially reducing the amount it needs to pay for rooftop solar. It also proposed a ‘fair share surcharge’ for net-metered customers.
It’s not that Xcel is necessarily against solar. For instance, even as Xcel has proposed cutting back incentives to rooftop solar it has filed to triple the amount of solar power it purchases from large-scale solar projects to 170 megawatts. But reducing incentives for distributed solar power could hurt the residential solar industry in the state and devalues the benefits of locally produced solar electricity.
The proposals spurred action from Coloradans, the solar industry and other solar supporters. At a rally before delivering the protests, Annie Lappé, solar policy director with The Vote Solar Initiative said they conducted a study as to whether Xcel was properly valuing solar. “Our study showed that every year rooftop solar through the policy of net-metering delivers over $13.6 million dollars of grid benefits every year,” she said. Those benefits, for all Xcel customers, include not using centralized power plants, avoiding new transmission infrastructure and more, she said.
Solar advocates repeated their call for more distributed solar like home solar. “Our goal is to see a million solar roofs in Colorado,” said Environment Colorado’s Energy Associate Margaret McCall. “That would clean our air, save our water and would make Colorado into the solar leader that it should be.”
"Xcel's anti-solar proposal is out of step with its own customers,” said Meghan Nutting, a spokeswoman for The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), and Colorado-based director of policy and electricity markets for SolarCity Corp. “Recent polling shows that four in five Coloradans support our current solar crediting arrangement and oppose Xcel's efforts to weaken it.”