Xcel faces backlash over Colorado solar net metering plan

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Solar industry and environmental groups in Colorado have united to oppose proposals by utility company Xcel Energy they say could restrict the growth of rooftop PV in the state.

They claim Xcel’s renewable energy plan for 2014 filed last week with the Colorado Public Utilities’ Commission (PUC) could pave the way for a scaling back of solar net metering, the mechanism by which rooftop solar owners are paid for the electricity they produce.

Although Xcel’s plan set a target of 24MW of small-scale solar and 6.5MW of community solar for 2014, it also raised questions over the value of solar net metering and the costs the policy transfers to non-solar customers.

The utility said the value of solar net metering was “not clearly identified” and requested the state PUC spell out full costs and benefits of the programme.

“This is becoming an issue in many states, but we believe our proposal to continue our programs, while quantifying the full value of utility incentives – will make for better future decisions about our renewable energy alternatives” said David Eves, chief executive of Xcel. “As the solar industry truly moves toward becoming self-sustaining, we need to determine how to address these costs.”

But members of the 22-strong group described the plan as a “threat” to net metering that set a course for the rolling back of the policy. They said Xcel had used a “flawed” study as the basis for its proposals.

Annie Lappé, solar policy director at The Vote Solar Initiative, said: “Xcel is using a flawed study and backroom tactics to attempt to roll back one of the state’s most important solar customer rights. While we understand that rooftop solar represents a change from the utility’s traditional way of doing business, this proposal is a non-starter for a needed conversation about the future of rooftop solar in Colorado.”

Edward Stern, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), said: “Net metering has been a huge component to helping Colorado families and businesses afford to go solar.

“Xcel’s current proposal falls short of accounting for rooftop solar’s tremendous value to Colorado. If we're going to have a conversation about net metering, we need to make sure we're using good, updated, accurate information.”

Jeanne Bassett, spokeswoman for Environment Colorado, said: “Like many utilities across the country, Xcel Energy is trying to squash one of our most successful solar programmes. Rooftop solar provides immense environmental and economic benefits to households, businesses and neighborhoods; while making our electric grid more resilient.

“We urge our state regulators to recognise that net metering is an efficient way to fairly compensate owners of solar panels for the value they provide to the electric grid and to reject proposals that would erode this effective programme.”

An Xcel spokesman quoted in the Denver Post said the company’s policy was to seek greater transparency on net metering, not eliminate it.

Net metering is under attack by utilities in a number of other US states, particularly Arizona, where earlier this month utility Arizona Public Service filed proposals to the state regulator that would place additional rate charges on net metering customers.

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