Xcel Energy Is Outed for Flip-Flopping on Rooftop Solar

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Despite the recent introduction of bipartisan solar legislation in Massachusetts, solar net metering remains a contentious issue in many states. Now one of the large utilities fighting the policy, Xcel Energy, is being called out for changing its position to serve its own interests.

Xcel has been using the same argument against net metering as other major utilities: although (more well-off) solar customers are generating some of their own power, they still rely on the grid and should pay extra for that, so that other (less well-off) customers don’t have to foot the bill. Naturally, utilities can’t say their real concern is not so much their customers as their profits.

When it comes to customers, though, a number of studies have shown that metering benefits all utility customers, whether or not they go solar. One of the more recent studies, in Nevada, concluded that there is no significant cost shift there from solar to non-solar customers.

But utilities around the country, with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have been fighting net metering — so far resulting in a series of defeats.

That hasn’t stopped them from trying. Net metering battles are heating up now in Utah and Colorado. In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power is seeking to add a charge of $4.65 a month for solar customers. So far, that’s only 2700 customers, but no doubt the utility fears the number will grow, as it has in so many other parts of the country.

Faith and business groups gathered last week at a Utah synagogue to protest the proposed fee. As elsewhere, net metering supporters include individuals and groups from across the political spectrum.

Also last week, Colorado residents packed into Public Utilities Commission meeting rooms in Denver to support net metering. With more residential solar customers than in Utah (as of June, 19,400 under Xcel’s Solar Reward program), Xcel seems to be worried. The utility is proposing cuts to incentives for solar customers, as well as to the net-metering credit.

In the midst of all this, an interesting tidbit has surfaced. Apparently, Xcel has been aware of the benefits of net metering for quite a while.

A 2007 Denver Post article shows that Xcel once acknowledged — even proclaimed — that distributed rooftop solar benefits all utility customers: “Xcel officials maintain that all customers benefit because solar systems delay the need to build expensive power plants and reduce prospective future taxes on carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) is calling out Xcel’s current attack on net metering as a self-serving position meant to protect the utility monopoly from competition.

TASC spokesperson Susan Glick told us, “Xcel flip-flopped their view on net metering once solar became a true form of competition. As Xcel affirmed, net metering benefits all ratepayers. It is strong policy that should remain intact.”

TASC believes that the large turnout at last week’s net metering panel shows that Coloradans will continue to stand strong for net metering. As in other states, residents there support rooftop solar and don’t want the utility to succeed in stifling it.

If what’s happened so far in other states is any indication, we expect that net metering will win in Utah and Colorado — though not without a fight. Shining a light on the real motives of utilities is an important tool in that fight.