Rooftop solar is helping Colorado families, schools and businesses take charge of their power supply and their electricity bills like never before. This private investment is helping build a cleaner, safer and lower cost energy supply for all of us. Plus it's helping us fight against climate change! It’s great news for Coloradans, but big utilities view competition from solar as a threat to their old way of doing business.
Xcel, Colorado's largest utility, recently asked for new regulations that penalize Coloradans who go solar. They are proposing a major change in the way rooftop solar energy is valued in the electricity market. Currently, through a policy called "net metering," when citizens use their own money to install solar energy systems on their homes, they are able to generate a credit that offsets their own energy usage.
This credit is not just for the energy they generate, but also for other benefits of solar. Solar helps utilities meet peak demand, reduces the need for costly transmission lines and cuts air pollution from power plants. A recent independent analysis found that the benefits of net-metered power to the electrical grid outweigh the lost revenue Xcel collects, with a total net value of between $7 and $11 million per year.
Instead of accounting for the total value of solar, Xcel Energy is using a flawed and outdated internal study to claim that net metering is a handout to consumers that needs to be eventually phased out. The utility is claiming that half the credit an average residential customer receives under net metering is a subsidy.
If Xcel is successful in convincing the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that net metering is a subsidy, the company will have laid the groundwork to alter the economics that now make solar energy an attractive option for homeowners. The proposal is included in the utility's 2014 Renewable Energy Standard compliance filing and is pending before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Coloradans knew that they had to stand up to Xcel and they had to do it fast. ACE’s partners, Vote Solar, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), and Sierra Club, among others organized a petition to defend net metering in Colorado and show Xcel the support that solar energy has. They also organized a rally set for December 11th to deliver the petition signatures to Xcel’s Colorado headquarters.
ACE student, Maddy Gawler, spoke at the rally on behalf of Colorado youth. On a bright, sunny afternoon, in front of a crowd of over 200 people, Maddy raised her voice, letting Xcel know how solar energy would affect young people like herself in the future: “I know that climate change is real, and I know that I want clean air to breathe. I know that I want an environment that’s not poisoned by fossil fuel pollution. And I know that solar will help. I’m here today to urge Xcel to withdraw its proposal and keep Colorado solar shining.”
Then together with the rest of the crowd, armed with signs like Xcel! Your Proposal Belongs Where the Sun Don’t Shine!, Solar Power to the People, Another Conservative for Solar Power, and A Solar Spill = A Nice Day!, Maddy marched down to Xcel’s headquarters and helped delivered the almost 30,000 signatures.
What Xcel and the PUC decide to do next, we don’t yet know. But Colorado citizens, including its young people, have made it clear that they will not stand to be pushed aside or treated unfairly. Coloradans want solar and they want fair credit for it. And we don’t think that’s too much to ask.