Industry members, homeowners, and concerned citizens rally outside Xcel Energy offices in Denver. Advocates deliver nearly 30,000 signed letters from community stakeholders who support current net metering policy. Xcel, meanwhile, champions damaging policy reforms for the residential solar market.
Public endorsement of solar was evident in Colorado Wednesday, as some 300 passionate solar defenders rallied in Denver. The rally was organized by the Vote Solar Initiative, The Alliance for Solar Choice, The Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (COSEIA), Environment Colorado, the Sierra Club, and Clean Energy Action. The Demonstrators arrived at investor-owned utility Xcel Energy’s offices to deliver 30,000 signatures in favor of current net metering policy and constructive dialogue about distributed generation.
“It was a strong showing of support,” says Annie Lappé, Solar Policy Director with Vote Solar. Vote Solar is a national nonprofit working to bring solar into the mainstream though its grassroots and advocacy efforts. Lappé says a diverse group turned out for the event: young, old, installers, homeowners, renters, and people from across the political spectrum.
A poll out last week showed that 78% of Coloradans support current net metering policy and reject Xcel’s plan.
At issue is Xcel’s proposal to change net metering policy to undercut the residential solar market in Colorado, a state with about 160 MW of distributed solar capacity.
Xcel’s strategy is nuanced. It is asking the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reclassify current net metering payments as a subsidy. The utility could then claim these payments as part of a capped funding source it uses to meet its renewable portfolio standard requirements. This in turn will create a loophole, allowing Xcel to cap the net metering program in the short term.
And reclassifying net metering as a subsidy opens the door to a phase-out of the program, which Xcel has obliquely suggested it will attempt in the future.
Net metering rates could go from 10.5 cents to 4.6 cents per kilowatt. The issue will be before the PUC starting in February next year, with a decision expected around May or June. Xcel bases support for its proposals on a study, done in-house, which found that installed solar imparts a cost on electric ratepayers.
Vote Solar recently commissioned Crossborder Energy to independently review Xcel’s numbers, and uncovered serious flaws. Crossborder calculated instead that current net metering policy actually saves Xcel ratepayers $13.6 million a year. The researchers considered fuel costs, transmission and distribution upgrades, investments in new generation capacity, and likely carbon abatement cost increases in the future.
“We’re definitely going to be there to testify [in February before the PUC],” says Lappé, adding, “Commissions need to think proactively about how the twenty-first century grid will include significantly more distributed resources than yesterday’s, given consumers’ high demand for these technologies.”
Lappé hopes for a proactive, not reactive, discussion about distributed generation, and thinks the PUC may play an important role. “It may be up to the PUC to enable – or if necessary, force – this conversation.”
With thousands of citizens and homeowners speaking out against Xcel’s proposals, state regulators may find an opportunity for a proactive conversation sooner than later.