Solar advocates attack Xcel plan to define net metering costs


A coalition of renewable energy proponents, businesses and environmental groups in the U.S. state of Colorado is taking aim at a new proposal from utilities giant Xcel Energy that they say targets rooftop solar growth in its territory.

According to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the group is urging the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to reject the Xcel plan in order to protect one of the state's most significant instruments in encouraging consumer investment in solar power.

According to SEIA, the utility is using a contested study that has not undergone public or commission review to make its case against the state's successful solar policy. "The Xcel study and subsequent proposal do not fairly value the many benefits that rooftop solar delivers to Colorado," SEIA says.

Issued last week as part of Xcel's 2014 Renewable Energy Standard (RES) compliance plan, the proposal calls for solar customers' net costs — the benefits they receive less the costs Xcel Energy avoids as a result of their solar systems – to be clearly set forth in Xcel's renewables fund, known as the Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment (RESA).

Xcel maintains the value of the net metering incentive is not clearly identified. "Solar generation does allow the utility to avoid the cost of fuel, some future generating plant needs and some system energy losses, but other costs related to distribution, transmission and generation capacity are not avoided so they ultimately are paid for by other Xcel Energy customers in Colorado," the company says.

David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel subsidiary, says the need to define the value of net metering "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. As the solar industry truly moves toward becoming self-sustaining, we need to determine how to address these costs."

Xcel says it's asking the CPUC "to identify clearly the incentives provided to solar customers associated with net metering. These net metering incentives ultimately are paid by non-solar customers across Xcel Energy's service territory in Colorado." The company stresses that its RES compliance plan "does not propose to change the amount of money paid to solar customers in 2014, but to make the full net metering incentive clear and transparent."

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SEIA, however, argues that the Xcel study used as a basis for its RES compliance plan and subsequent proposal do not fairly value the many benefits that rooftop solar delivers to Colorado, such as a cleaner environment for all residents, a reduction in the need for expensive centralized power plants and transmission infrastructure, which would benefit Colorado's non-solar customers, and employment and economic benefits for the state. Colorado’s 275 solar companies employ 3,600 residents and the state saw investments of $187 million last year in solar installation on homes and businesses.

"Rooftop solar is helping Colorado families, schools and businesses take charge of their power supply and their electricity bills like never before," SEIA says, pointing out that private investment in local clean energy is "delivering economic, environmental and public health benefits to Xcel’s solar and non-solar customers alike."

Carrie Cullen Hitt, SEIA’s senior vice president for state affairs, adds: "Private investment in rooftop solar is helping build a cleaner, safer and more resilient energy supply for all Coloradans. We encourage the Colorado PUC to stand strong for rooftop solar by rejecting this harmful proposal from Xcel."

In filing its 2014 RES compliance plan with the CPUC, Xcel Energy indicated that it would request to add 42.5 MW of new generation in 2014, including 24 MW of on-site, small solar and 6.5 MW of community solar, through the company's Solar Rewards program.

More than 160 MW of solar has been installed in Colorado through the Solar Rewards program, which has paid more than $276 million in incentives to customers, according to Xcel.

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