Battle lines drawn over Colorado net metering dispute

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

US utility, Xcel Energy (XE), has said it is hoping to prove a “hidden” solar subsidy in a series of hearings discussing net metering (NM) in the state of Colorado.

Meanwhile solar advocacy group, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) has accused XE of using “flawed methodology” in its argument and of protecting a “monopoly”.

Back in July, XE filed its renewable energy plan for 2014 with the Colorado Public Utilities’ Commission (PUC).

In response to XE’s plan the PUC called for an examination into net metering rates, resulting in four hearings, one last July, one 1 October, and two to follow.

For the following two sessions, senior media representative for XE, Mark Stutz said to PV Tech via e-mail the utility is “seeking verification that there is a hidden NM subsidy”.

Stutz described the apparent hidden subsidy for solar NM customers as “the benefits of the grid and other costs”.

Stutz said this benefit is delivered to NM users “essentially, through another mechanism on customer bills. Our non-rooftop solar customers don’t even really know they’re paying this subsidy each month.”

Stutz said once the PUC hearings reveal the “hidden subsidy”, the cost “needs to be transparent so that all non-solar customers know they are paying it”, and would also need to be recorded through the state’s Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment (RESA).

Stutz said XE proposed examining NM “for a number of reasons”, one of which is to “keep up” with exponential new installations of solar power, stating installation rates increased by 64% in 2013.

Susan Glick, senior manager for public policy at residential solar provider, Sunrun, and spokesperson for TASC, said XE's “attack” on rooftop solar “starts as trying to roll back net metering” and if the PUC did decide to change NM, the decision “would be a devastating blow to the solar industry”.

“It is a corner stone policy. It is critical to continue solar growth. If you want to continue solar growth you can’t get rid of net metering,” Glick said.

Stutz stressed XE had not proposed a NM reduction but the issue is “strictly” policy only, and about “fairness”.

Glick argued that there are hidden benefits of rooftop solar for utilities, rather than hidden costs, citing the Cross Border Energy report. The report concludes NM delivers financial benefits to all rate payers, not just solar customers.

Strutz said the same societal benefits such as jobs, health and environment, come from large, central solar installations – the same as from rooftop solar, but central installations get “more generation for our customers’ dollars”.

Responding to the allegation of flawed methodology, Stutz responded that “one can certainly disagree on the numbers in terms of dollar and cents, but at the end of the day there’s a hidden subsidy”.

Stutz said solar NM customers also benefit XE by offsetting the cost of fuel, and some generation costs, offsetting approximately US$0.046 per kWh put on XE’s grid.

However, this does not offset all generation, distribution or transmission costs, added Stutz.

Stutz claimed solar NM customers therefore “double-use” the grid, “75% of the time”, by putting out excess power generated, or to bring in power when systems are not generating.

This “double-use” costs all XE non-rooftop solar customers US$0.059 per kWh produced, estimated Stutz.

Stutz said if the rooftop solar industry in Colorado “truly was compensated for its contribution to cost of service, and otherwise paid for its fair share of the grid, then [the rooftop solar industry] would have an extremely difficult time making their business models work”.

Stutz added the RESA bills add to all customers 2% extra each month, to support renewable energy.

Stutz said XE “believes the actual system benefit for rooftop solar is significantly less than the full retail rate, in a true, utility cost-of-service model.”

But Glick said XE raising NM as an issue to the PUC is a “red herring” to protect profits.

Glick said XE “see rooftop solar as a threat to their growth”, and are therefore “attacking” solar to protect its “monopoly”.

Stutz countered that 76% of new solar installations are handled by one solar company, and one solar company accounts for 98% of all new solar kWh. “We might need to consider who is protecting profits, and who is the monopoly here?”

TASC claimed that XE put in solar programmes and set the rates, recovering all costs of deploying solar systems. “That makes rooftop solar part of the monopoly. The competitive market can’t do that” explains Glick.

 “[XE] have never seen competition before” and are “anti-competitive”.  

“Utilities say they are totally fine with rooftop solar, as long as they are the ones who can own it,” said Glick.

XE does not own solar, put does have power purchase agreements for large central solar projects with independent power producers in Colorado. Stutz said this was cheaper for all rate payers, and there “remains a place for some rooftop solar as long as our customers want it”.

One thing that is “undeniable”, said Glick, is the overwhelming public support for rooftop solar. “If an election were held today, 74% of voters would vote ‘yes’ on a pro solar net metering ballot measure,” said Glick. “That speaks magnitudes.”

10 November 2021
The solar tracker market continues to mature at breakneck speed, with designs and component selections becoming ever-more complex in the pursuit of better project economics. But a more simplistic design could deliver a triple benefit of lower Capex, EPC and Opex costs. This webinar will set out the ideal single axis tracker design for utility-scale solar farms. The design leapfrogs from decades of experience, with a comprehensive understanding and attention to the three cost structures of Capex, EPC and Opx. Sun and Steel Solar has prototyped a single axis tracker designed to deliver up to US$0.03/W in real savings compared to existing single axis trackers on the market. That’s US$30 million for every gigawatt deployed.
15 November 2021
The 10th edition of the famous Metallization and Interconnection Workshop, MIW2021, will take place in the Thor Central venue in Genk, Belgium, on Monday, November 15, and Tuesday, November 16, 2021 as a face-to-face meeting. We are longing for direct exchange of knowledge and ideas after a long time. Hopefully you can be part of it! But of course, the organizors will keep an eye on the evolution of the Covid pandemic. It will be assess carefully, whether the workshop can be held without major risks or excessive restrictions. We are looking forward to exciting talks, discussions and meetings and to welcoming you in Genk!
23 November 2021
The solar, storage and EV industries in the UK are going from strength to strength. There is no better place for the community to meet, share ideas and do business than Solar & Storage Live from 23-25 November at the NEC.There’s something for everyone; more than 150 exhibitors, a high-level conference, a start up and innovation zone, a poster zone, strategic partners to network with and much more. 
24 November 2021
In this webinar we will assess how these technical parameters and land characteristics can make a difference, in order to correctly make the choice between 1P or 2P trackers. There will be a comparison of the behaviour of Soltec’s 1P tracker, SFOne, and its 2P tracker, the SF7.
1 December 2021
Understand fully the technical and logistical supply chains that determine the production and performance of solar modules, including all related factors impacting quality, reliability & bankability. This event will be run online with streamed content, access to session recordings and chat/messaging tools for delegates to connect.
2 December 2021
Intersolar is the world’s leading exhibition & conference series for the solar industry. As part of this event series, Intersolar India in Mumbai is India’s most pioneering exhibition and conference for India’s solar industry. It takes place annually and has a focus on the areas of photovoltaics, PV production and solar thermal technologies. Since 2019, Intersolar India is held under the umbrella of The smarter E India – India’s innovation hub for the new energy world.

Read Next

October 28, 2021
The performance of US solar assets against P50 estimates worsened over the last decade, new analysis has shown, prompting calls for the use of real-world data-driven benchmarks when financing new projects.
October 28, 2021
The US International Trade Commission (ITC) has ruled in favour of US solar manufacturer Solaria in an initial ruling related to alleged patent infringement by Canadian Solar.
October 28, 2021
A round-up of the latest news from the US solar market, including a new Lightsource bp project in Colorado, CenterPoint’s PV expansion in Indiana and another solar power purchase agreement (PPA) from Facebook.
October 28, 2021
Off-grid, pay-as-you go solar company BBOXX has expanded into Nigeria, the company’s largest market to date, with the aim of providing clean energy access to 20 million people over the next decade
October 28, 2021
US residential solar installer Sunnova is broadening its service offering in areas such as battery storage and electric vehicle charging as it bids to double its customer count over the next two years.
PV Tech Premium
October 28, 2021
With the crucial COP26 summit just days away, PV Tech Premium breaks down the key players and countries for solar to watch at the event

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Webinars
November 10, 2021
8am (PST) | 5pm (CET)
Solar Media Events
December 1, 2021