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Renewable energy at Xcel’s mercy

Dear Editor:

While Colorado’s Solar PV market has been a beacon of light in this struggling economy, recent actions taken by Xcel energy, the largest investor owned utility in the state, threaten to dim our horizons.

Following the advent of Amendment 37, passed on Dec. 1, 2004, Xcel has been administering an effective Solar Rewards program, providing incentive for customers to invest in Solar Energy. The program had been working extremely well, helping Colorado to establish itself as one of the top five leading states in renewable energy economic growth. Colorado proudly boasts over 5,300 solar jobs, and more than 400 solar businesses.

On Feb. 17, however, Xcel wrote a proposal to the Colorado Public Utility Commission (CPUC), requesting that their Solar Rewards program be reduced by over 90 percent, virtually slashing their entire program. This came with no warning or communication whatsoever to all PV installation companies. As they wait for a response from the CPUC this spring, their program has been completely suspended.

While we acknowledge the growth that Xcel has promoted, we also acknowledge that a monopoly should not be able to “pull the plug” on an industry of small businesses, and in doing so, put thousands of jobs at risk. For almost all solar companies in Xcel territory, this is a frightening concept. First of all, it is important to note that for Xcel to administer a renewable energy program in the first place is a conflict of interest for them. Other states have appointed an independent third-party administrator to oversee conflicts of interest such as this, and, as a call to action, Colorado should appoint one as well.

In the meantime, we would like to see the CPUC restart Xcel’s Solar Rewards Program, and keep them on track with their original plan of slowly reducing their incentives over a longer time frame, thus holding them accountable to their original intention. Xcel’s territory covers over 90 percent of Colorado’s renewable energy market. Over the past 2 years, solar electric costs have come down 40-50 percent, and during that time frame, Xcel has already reduced their incentives by 50 percent. This was proving to be an extremely reliable, stable, and effective plan helping Colorado’s solar market grow by 90 percent in 2010 alone. It also helped to maintain healthy business relationships with smaller companies who were grateful to be aided by a larger establishment.

Xcel’s recent unilateral decision making has abruptly severed those relationships. It has also brought all sales in Xcel territory to a blunt stopping point. Xcel may well argue that as mandated by Amendment 37, they have been way ahead of schedule regarding the amendment’s initial requirement that 15 percent of their electricity sales are in the renewable energy sector by 2015. However, as clearly stated in Amendment 37’s declaration of intent, Xcel is required to “promote the development of rural economies.”

While the solar market has grown, it is still small; generating approximately 1 percent of the country’s energy, and therefore, it is extremely vulnerable. With cooperation and aid by monopolies such as Xcel, that 1 percent statistic is a point of optimistic potential to the renewable energy world. With sudden abrupt decisions to cut funding, however, that 1 percent becomes a weak foundation to stand on. Drastic measures like this can easily and swiftly undo the infrastructure that we have worked so hard to build.

As a call to those interested in this exciting and passionate business, we urge you to get involved. One way to do so is to post comments on the CPUC’s open discussion forums at http://www.dora.state.co.us/puc/# or http://www.dora.state.co.us/puc/>.

Also, if you are currently a student of renewables in any capacity we urge you to research this matter further. What does this mean for you and your future in renewable energy? The most important point to take from this is that it has become readily apparent that we need an independent third party to oversee the policies and procedures of renewable energy development in the state of Colorado. Renewable energy started in the hands of small businesses, and we would like to see it stay there. If the utility monopolies are able to have too much control over the development of these renewables, our newly stabilizing economy might be back on the ground floor in the renewable energy world.

Matt Haslett

Sales/Marketing, Sunsense Solar

Carbondale


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