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June 07, 2016 09:00 PM UTC

PUC Hearings Slated on Xcel's Solar-Killing Proposals

  • 9 Comments
  • by: kwtree

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

On Thursday, June 9, in Denver, and on June 16 in Grand Junction, Colorado’s Public Utility Commission will hear public comment from 4-6 p.m.about Xcel Energy’s new rate proposal.

solar panels in colorado
Solar Panels in Colorado -photo courtesy of the Sierra Club of Colorado.

The Sierra Club of Colorado is inviting public comment about the proposals, and asking supporters to meet early (at 3:15  pm) for a press event on the west steps of the Capitol, then walk with signs to 1560 Broadway to picket and to speak at the hearing. Sierra Club’s invitation reads:

Xcel’s new proposal called “our energy future” is moving in the wrong direction. It adds fees that negatively impact our families and communities – whether they have solar or not – and places corporate profit over the public interest.

Xcel tried unsuccessfully to drive solar competition out of Colorado from 2013-2015 by proposing an end to Net Metering. After a long consideration process and multiple hearings Colorado sent the signal to continue with net metering.

The Sierra Club is referring to Xcel’s second proposal:

Establishing a “grid charge” to recover distribution system costs for residential and commercial customers. The company is proposing to assess graduated charges that increase with a customer’s average use over their past 12 billing periods.

This proposal would charge solar customers a “grid charge” to penalize them for having the gall to install solar panels, which feed energy back into the electrical grid. They would like solar customers to pay extra for the privilege of generating their own power.

Xcel’s “Solar Connect” program is the same program which was rejected by the PUC in 2014. In 2014, Solar Industry called the proposal “Sleight of billing,” in which customers would have been billed for more solar power than was actually produced. Xcel’s own spin on the program somehow neglects to mention this aspect.

What happens when a utility gets to charge solar customers extra for installing solar:

The Pueblo Paws4Life no-kill animal shelter found out when they tried to be a Leeds Green building, and installed 234 solar panels on their roof.  Black Hills Energy(BHE) had a dual rate structure for solar installations, with some sneaky fine print in the contract. The shelter was a commercial installation, and so had to pay a “demand fee” to BHE.

Carol Warner, President of Paws4life, recounted what happened when the “demand fee” kicked in. The shelter’s utility bills rocketed to $12,000 per month, even though they were generating most of it from their own solar panels. The “demand fee” charges commercial consumers a rate consistent with their highest peak use. Paws4Life began to struggle just to keep the doors open.

BHE  has been no friend to solar in the Pueblo area, and many companies are going out of business.  BHE also has some of the highest utility rates in Colorado, and a bad reputation for price – gouging customers.

Rural Electric Associations across the state often have a confusing dual rate structure for solar, leading rural customers to erroneously believe that “solar costs more”. They do this because the PUC allows them to get away with it.

Communities across Colorado are letting the PUC know that they support renewable energy –  with mixed results:

Solar advocates in Weld County successfully defeated a proposed ordinance which would have prohibited  solar installations on agricultural land. (Fracking was still allowed on ag land, though). This happened after massive community protest of the BCCC’s original solar-killing proposal.

The PUC is also considering the city of Boulder’s planned  intervention in Xcel’s wind farm proposal. Boulder is trying to municipalize its electrical utilities; so the planned wind facility would be one they would try to purchase, if successful.

Governor Hickenlooper appointed a GOP lawmaker with ties to ALEC to the PUC. There was massive public protest, and Vaad was never confirmed by the Colorado legislature. Hick reappointed Vaad anyway.

Show your support of renewable energy. Let the Public Utility Commission know that we will not allow Xcel Energy to kill the solar energy industry in Colorado.

For more information, contact the sponsors of the press event and public input at the PUC hearing:

Alliance for Solar Choice, which advocates for rooftop distributed solar across the country

And Sierra Club  of Colorado.

Comments

9 thoughts on “PUC Hearings Slated on Xcel’s Solar-Killing Proposals

  1. Great info, mama. I get monthly bills from Black Hills Energy for a property in their service area, a property that is only occupied a few days per month. Even now, on the verge of summer, and with nothing running there but a small refrigerator, my most recent monthly electric bill from Black Hills was nearly $50, and the previous month's bill was nearly $56. It's unfortunate that the local governments in Black Hills service area haven't united on behalf of their residents, to fight this disastrous company.

  2. I have residential solar panels and benefit from net metering. This time of year, my production exceed my consumption, and I am able to "bank" kW for future use. It is a boon to me at Xcel's expense in that they have to "buy" my excess production at their own retail rate. They supply the grid but make no profit off of my production. But there would seem to be a much simpler solution than grid charges.  Why doesn't Xcel have varying rates based on peak usage?  My panels produce excess electricity during long sunny days when demand is highest.  Why isn't Xcel charging customers more for electricity at peak usage?  That would allow them to "sell" my excess at a premium, and the net metering credits that I receive would be used by me at night (when my panels produce nothing) and when demand and rates are lower. Grid charges will not kill residential solar. But they will encourage me, and others like me, to get batteries (as they become affordable) and get off the grid completely.  

    1. In the real world, the need to main an electric grid for that 70 percent of the time when the sun doesn't shine enough for intermittent sources is real and needs to be paid for somehow,  But Early worm's solution, a surcharge for peak use, is a worthy means toward that end.  It would also encourage more storage, as he notes, and thus encourage more green power.  The PUC should consider his thoughts.

      1. V – the inverse is true for their coal plants. Night load is always negligible, yet they demand we find ways to pay them to keep their plants running full-on, 24/7. That 18th-century technology served us well even up to  20 years ago. It's well past time for it to go. For lots of reasons, not the least is the societal costs of its negative externalities, estimated at $500 billion annually from a national perspective. 

        Great job, MamaJ

    2. If I'm reading the Denver Post reporting on Xcel's proposal correctly, they are proposing to cut those Solar Rewards programs you benefit from. Xcel also has a battery pilot program in its proposal; they want to partner with Panasonic to have consumers buy and try out some battery storage systems.

      Now if Xcel is true to form, after finding out whatever on the home-battery research, they will find some way to penalize customers who store their electrical energy overnight. Xcel truly does not want a distributed-grid system, and will connive any number of green-sounding methods to discourage it.

  3. I'm wondering if a small change in rate structures for solar provided to the grid couldn't help make the utilities more willing partners?  The excess solar from consumers would be essentially worthless without the grid/utilities infrastructure, why should utilities pay the same end-user rate to consumers for the excess power they produce?  Seems to me a reasonable profit incentive to the utilities is not unjustified, and would solve many problems?

    1. That would be something to be negotiated, Dio, between consumers, solar contractors, and the utilities. The PUC as it exists now is not a fair broker. They are biased towards utilities. The missing piece is that there have to be options for consumers: like more than one utility, like living off grid as early worm proposes, like….I don't even know, because it isn't really my field.

      In Pueblo, Black Hills Energy is a monopoly – the only game in town in its service area. Where I live now, the Pawnee power plant, 100% coal, is the only utility available unless you self-install solar or burn wood.

      In the Denver area, I believe that you sometimes have options for utilities, at least in where you locate and where you live within the metro area.

      So  one task of people who work in this area would be to make the PUC less friendly to monopolies, give consumers viable options for how to heat and power their homes and businesses. You know, capitalism. The free market. The PUC that Hick has chosen is monopoly-friendly, not consumer-friendly.

      Which is all to say that I'm not at all opposed to a reasonable profit incentive for the utilities, as that is part of the capitalist free-market system. But the playing field has to be leveled so that renewables are not penalized. And real antitrust legislation needs to be implemented.

      Otherwise, that “small profit incentive” mushrooms to Black Hills 315% profit in one year. I think that was the statistic, although I’d have to look it up. It was something obscene like that.

      And their flak catchers and spinners go out into the community and greenwash it and try to make it seem like they truly have consumer’s needs at heart.

      1. Thanks for that information, and the diary. My questions are truly just that, I am functionally uninformed in these matters and their interplay.  The one principle that I do know is that entrenched interests and powers-that-be almost always have have to be drug kicking and screaming into the future, change is almost always viewed by that ilk as a loss. 

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