Alliance for Solar Choice condemns move to ‘penalise solar’ in Colorado

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The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) has condemned a move by utility company Xcel Energy to request permission to pay below market rates for solar electricity produced by rooftop generation in Boulder, Colorado.

According to TASC, a pro-rooftop PV generation consortium of individuals and companies, the move will “penalise solar customers and eliminate the fair credit they receive for excess clean energy they deliver to the grid”. 

Xcel is requesting permission from the Public Utilities Commission to pay reduced rates for energy fed into the grid by rooftop solar producers. TASC describes the position of Xcel as undermining net metering and preventing “consumers from receiving fair credit for the rooftop solar power they produce”.

For several years, campaigners in the city have been pushing for the creation of a municipal utility to supply electricity. Boulder residents voted last week in a ballot on two questions, with the first, Question 310 requiring voter approval for any utility bond issue and the second, Question 2E, limiting the cost of acquiring Xcel’s equipment at US$214 million.

Question 310 was backed by Xcel and was included on the ballot after a campaign by Voter Approval on Debt Limits, a group mostly funded by the utility. Success for Question 310 would have required a subsequent vote on the debt limit of the city utility. If the service area of the utility were to include areas outside Boulder, residents in those areas would also be required to participate in the vote.

Question 2E was added by the city in response to Question 310, to address public questions on how much the newly established utility would cost ratepayers while limiting acquisition costs to US$214 million.

Question 310 failed to go through, opposed by around 60% of voters, while Question 2E was successful by a similar margin. The result means that the city’s residents have given the local authorities permission to further explore the creation of a municipal utility, expected to include a mandate to expand the use of renewable energy in the state. However Xcel and Voter Approval on Debt Limits claimed a partial victory in having Question 310 included on the ballot paper at all despite the landslide vote result.

Despite Xcel's interpretation, Megan Nutting of TASC said that the results “…demonstrate a clear public desire for more choice, local control and more renewable energy”.

Nutting and TASC reacted to the request for Xcel to pay less to rooftop generators by saying: “We all should have the choice to produce our own power from the sun without being penalised. But Xcel wants to increase their monopoly over our power sources and eliminate this freedom.”

Local reports claim that Xcel spent over half a million dollars campaigning ahead of the vote, echoing similar moves alleged to have recently taken place on behalf of utilities in other US regions, including Arizona. Meanwhile around US$200,000 was thought to have been spent on the pro-municipal utility campaign through a crowd-funded global appeal.

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