More than 200 people showed up outside the Xcel Energy offices in Denver Wednesday to support solar and to formally oppose the utility’s proposal to scale back its net metering program.
Xcel’s Solar Rewards program currently credits solar customers the retail rate – 10.5 cents – of power for every kilowatt hour of solar energy they feed back into the grid. Xcel has argued to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that the energy solar customers generate is only worth 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour. Rather than cutting the credit to customers, Xcel proposed reimbursing itself from the 2 percent rate hikes it’s allowed to impose in support of renewable energy development in the state, thus limiting solar growth and essentially capping net metered distributed generation.
“All the people who came out here on their lunch break on a cold Wednesday afternoon – I think we were able to show Xcel that Coloradans don’t agree with their intent,” said Meghan Nutting, director of policy and electricity markets for SolarCity and a member of The Alliance for Solar Choice. “We were shooting for 100 people and we had more than twice that. The turnout was fantastic”
In addition to sign holding rally participants, TASC delivered a petition against Xcel’s proposal with more than 29,000 signatures on it.
“This is just the beginning and we already have significant participation,” Nutting said.
Utilities in other states launched campaigns against distributed solar this year as well. Arizona Public Services just got a decision back from the state regulating body there. The company was allowed to increase monthly fees for solar customers by about $5, a fraction of the $50 to $100 it requested.
Nutting said Arizona represented a victory for solar and a defeat for the established utilities. If a move to undermine net metering could flop in ultra conservative Arizona, Xcel will have its work cut out for it in Colorado, Nutting said.
“The utilities in Arizona spent $4 million campaigning against solar,” she said. “And they still lost.”
She said there were more than 1,000 protestors gathered in support of solar outside the Arizona Corporations Commission on decision day.
She said she expects there will be more opportunities for solar supporters to gather in Colorado before the PUC has a formal hearing on Xcel’s proposal in February.
“Times are changing and traditional utilities need to realize that,” Nutting said. “Typewriter companies went away, Kodak and Blockbuster. Utilities are not immune to change.”