Rooftop solar threatened but advocates fight back

A battle over the future of rooftop solar in Colorado is raging  in the arcane legal corridors of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and in the court of public opinion. Xcel Energy has proposed a rollback of one of the state’s most successful solar programs and solar advocates are mounting a vigorous fight.

 Known as net metering, the policy  grants credit to  customers for the excess power their solar systems produce, like  rollover minutes on a cell phone.

In its 2014 Renewable Energy Standard compliance plan, Xcel proposes labeling net metering a subsidy and drastically cutting the credit solar customers receive for putting their excess electricity on the grid. Solar supporters fear the outcome would be a big disincentive to rooftop solar at a time when the costs are dropping so as to make going solar an option for millions of home owners. 

While Xcel argues net metering payments represent a big subsidy, solar supporters instead cite  a rigorous new study  that shows  the private investment from rooftop solar provides huge benefits that all Coloradans enjoy. The economic, environmental and health benefits include:

•    Grid benefits: Local solar energy systems reduce the need for expensive centralized power plants and transmission infrastructure, which benefits Colorado’s non-solar customers. These grid benefits total up to $13.6 million annually for Xcel’s ratepayers. 

•    Job & economic benefits:  More than 300 solar companies currently employ 3,600 Coloradans throughout the state. In 2012, private investment to install solar on Colorado homes and businesses totaled $187 million.
•     New energy leadership: According to U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Quarter 2013, Colorado ranks 7th in the country for solar capacity with 314 megawatts (MW) installed, enough to power 56,500 homes.

Nearly 300 Coloradans braved frigid temperatures in December to stand up for rooftop solar. Wearing yellow scarves and chanting their support for solar energy, they delivered nearly 30,000 names on petitions to Xcel Energy’s headquarters, asking the utility to withdraw the damaging anti-solar proposal. 

Meanwhile, the proceedings at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission continue through legal filings and arguments. A public comment period is scheduled for February 3.

You can see the full text of the petition here
And you can see photos from the rally here:

Colorado is not alone. In place in 43 states, net metering  is one of the most important state policies for enabling Americans to generate their own power from solar and other renewable energy resources. And while rooftop solar represents only a tiny percentage of power—about 1 percent in Colorado-- utilities are acting threatened around the nation and trying to roll back  net metering. 2014 promises to be a pivotal year for these battles. 

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