Colorado’s solar industry has been growing for years now, with thousands of homeowners and businesses taking advantage of the Rocky Mountain Empire’s hundreds of sun-drenched days. But as they’ve gone solar, they’ve also depleted the funding for incentives offered by the state’s biggest utility, Xcel Energy, which means the solar industry was facing a slow down—even though costs of solar have come down significantly. However a June 18 decision by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed Xcel to support 33.6 more megawatts of small, distributed solar projects (under 10 kilowatts).
The approval was hailed by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the local chapter, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA). The victory for the solar industry—and for Xcel—came about through working together on a plan to expand the amount of small solar installed in the state. That, and recent legislation that will expand the amount of renewables that rural electric co-ops have to purchase will help ensure the state's solar industry continues to grow.
“This decision by the CPUC will help Coloradans who want to go solar, and it will help solar companies to expand their businesses. This will sustain Colorado jobs and continue the growth of a secure and sustainable source of domestic energy,” said Edward Stern, executive director, COSEIA.
“As part of a compliance plan approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in 2012, 9.6 megawatts of generating capacity were available to Xcel Energy residential customers in Colorado in each of the two years, for systems of up to 10.0 kilowatts each, allowing for solar installations on approximately 2,000 homes,” SEIA said in a statement. But due to the popularity of solar in the state, the program already was fully subscribed in the first half of 2013. “Without commission approval to expand the capacity of this program, incentives for installation of systems of 10.0 kilowatts or less electric would have been suspended statewide until at least 2014. This decision approved making 33.6 megawatts available to the Colorado solar market.”
“We thank the CPUC for making an expedient decision in support of Colorado’s rapidly-growing solar energy industry, which is now ranked fifth in the nation based on total installed capacity,” said Sara Birmingham, director of western states at SEIA. “Expanding Solar*Rewards will allow Colorado to maintain this leadership position by supporting small businesses and their growing workforce, and promoting the deployment of even more clean, abundant solar energy throughout the state.”
The results are a far cry from the acrimonious debate that came when Xcel planned to make drastic cuts and changes to the program without discussing it with the solar industry. And they show that utilities and the solar industry and its advocates can play nice.