Citizens and solar installers fill a packed PUC hearing room in Denver on Monday, decrying Xcel’s proposals to gut net metering rates. Most cite climate change and pollution as the reasons we need to embrace solar.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) heard public comments on Xcel Energy’s latest renewable energy proposals Monday night. Many came to speak, with the vast majority demanding that existing solar net energy metering (NEM) rates stay in place. The rates are currently set at the retail electricity rate of roughly 11 cents per kWh.
Xcel is proposing gutting the NEM program and shifting toward centralized renewable energy resources. NEM lets home and business owners get paid for the electricity their solar panels send to the grid — for example, the power that’s generated during the day if no one’s home using it.
Many who commented on Monday were homeowners, citing the fact that NEM allows them to recover the value of their solar investments in a number of years. While Xcel’s proposal would only affect new customers, it would significantly dis-incentivize new solar investments.
Judge Harris Adams takes public comments on behalf of PUC Commissioners in Denver on Monday
There was an obvious sense of pride from solar homeowners and solar installers who came to speak. They voiced concern over climate change, as well as over local pollution. Several said that they were speaking on behalf of their grandchildren, referencing climate change. Their common message was that solar should proliferate as quickly as possible: that it makes economic and moral sense.
While there were a variety of opinions expressed, several people attacked Xcel for being unfair or greedy. Many cited a Crossborder Energy study that found NEM confers millions of dollars in benefits to Xcel ratepayers. In contrast, Xcel claims NEM is a costly subsidy, in line with its own study that models NEM costs.
There were repeated calls for the PUC to bring in a third party facilitator with expertise in distributed solar and grid services valuation. The PUC is historically a mundane rate regulator and not a creative policy maker.
Given the rapidly evolving nature of generation and grid technologies, and the increasing obsolescence of old utility business models, a third-party expert is an excellent idea.
Vociferous public opposition to anti-solar proposals was instrumental in preventing steep fees from going into effect in Arizona, in a recent NEM battle there. Xcel unveiled its latest proposals for Colorado last year. Objections to the plans were quick to follow, with hundreds rallying outside Xcel’s headquarters. Just last week, the PUC agreed to separate the NEM issue to its own docket to be given further consideration, a move applauded by solar advocates.