Xcel Colorado solar plan rejected

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Proposals by US utility Xcel Energy for a premium solar programme for homeowners in Colorado have been rejected by the state’s regulator.

Following a series of hearings that concluded last week, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) threw out Xcel’s programme Solar Connect on the grounds that it would give the utility an “unfair competitive advantage” over home and community solar initiatives.

Under the programme, Xcel would have bought the power from a 50MW power plant in the state and sold it on to customers not able to install their own home solar system.

Although at the time the programme was proposed pro-solar groups welcomed it in principle for potentially increasing access to solar, however, there were growing concerns it could squeeze out competition, particularly given Xcel’s monopolistic position in the state.

According to a summary of the hearing by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), advisors to the commission recommended denying the application for a variety of reasons, including that it did not provide a level playing field and would subsidise utility profits.

One commissioner, Glen Vaad, said that although he was in favour of opening up solar to those in the state to those unable to access other programmes, it was “premature to accept the proposal”.

PUC chairman Joshua Epel, meanwhile, said he was concerned over changes made to the programme by Xcel during the process, claiming that the utility had not acted in a “spirit of cooperation”.

“We are disappointed with the commission's decision today,” Xcel said in a statement quoted by the Denver Post. “We thought that Solar Connect could bring a solar product to consumers in Colorado that do not currently have the option to install solar panels.”

Also quoted in the Denver Post, Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of COSEIA welcomed the PUC’s decision. “We think they got it right. Solar Connect as proposed just had too many unresolved issues,” Cantwell said.

Meanwhile, Xcel is the chief protagonist in a separate ongoing dispute over solar net metering in Colorado. The utility is seeking changes to the payments it offers to net metering customers.

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