In Colorado, Xcel Energy Promotes Utility-Scale Solar but Abandons Residential Market

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Investor-owned utility Xcel Energy’s latest electric resource plan for Colorado has been given the go-ahead, and it calls for a 170 MW addition of utility-scale solar by 2018. That would more than triple Xcel’s current solar capacity in the state. But this plan accompanies other recent Xcel proposals that threaten residential solar.

 

 

 

Xcel Energy says it’s “Committed to a renewable energy future,” and that “solar energy has great promise.” A quadrennial electric resource plan was approved by Colorado state regulators earlier this month. 

The green light was given to 170 MW of utility-scale solar, 450 MW of wind, and 317 MW of natural gas: new electric generation capacity to meet growing energy demand through 2018. And a red light was given to a 109 MW coal plant in Denver that will be shut down permanently. 

Xcel is on track to meet a 30% renewable portfolio standard that Colorado has set for 2020. And the additions will mark the first time Xcel chooses solar for its cost competitiveness. “This is the first time that we’ve seen, purely on a price basis, that the solar projects made the cut — without considering carbon costs or the need to comply with a renewable energy standard.” David Eves, CEO of Colorado’s Xcel subsidiary, explained to the Denver Business Journal.

But these efforts direct attention away from the other half of Xcel’s “commitment” to solar in the state. The company promotes investment in utility-scale renewables on the one hand, but cuts down the residential solar industry on the other. 

Xcel is fighting residential solar on two important fronts: net metering, and subsidies. 

The utility calls current net metering rates in Colorado a “hidden subsidy” and is proposing to reduce the rate from 10.5 cents to 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. It’s also gutting the important Solar*Rewards program, by renewing it but reducing the effective support to less than 10% of its current levels. 

The battle over net metering is being waged across the country. But cutting the Colorado Solar*Rewards subsidy is an overt attack on residential solar. Solar*Rewards has been funded by a 2% surcharge on Xcel customers’ electric bills, after all. And, a majority of people support solar. 

The decision to end the popular subsidy will not be reversed. But a Denver rally backed by 30,000 signatures marked the latest effort to challenge Xcel’s proposals to reduce net metering rates. The net metering issue will be before Colorado state regulators in 2014.