Throughout these rough economic times, Colorado’s blossoming solar industry has been a consistent bright spot. Since Colorado voters approved an incentive program for solar customers in 2004, Colorado has consistently been among the top five photovoltaics markets in the United States. Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards PV-incentive program, launched in 2006, has helped create more than 5,300 local solar jobs at more than 400 Colorado companies. Now those companies are stuck in a deep freeze.
Last week Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, announced it would slash incentives for solar installations by more than 50 percent, from $2.35 to $1.25 per watt. In a letter to Colorado solar installers, Xcel stated that, effective immediately, incentives for Colorado homeowners who install solar will be cut by another 15 percent and are asking the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for permission to drop the solar rebate to $.26 per watt, a 96 percent reduction from Xcel's original solar rebate of $4.50 per watt in less than three years.
“The immediate result is that sales activity in Xcel’s customer-sited PV market has come to a grinding halt,” Blake Jones of Namaste Solar reports on RenewableEnergyWorld.com. Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards program will not accept new project applications until the CPUC addresses the issue, leaving local solar companies with only “previously approved projects, if any, to sustain them while the future of Colorado’s solar industry and customer-sited PV market hangs in the balance,” Jones writes. “If Xcel’s actions are approved by the CPUC, I predict that over 50 to 75 percent of these jobs will be lost by the end of this year, causing Colorado to lose valuable solar industry infrastructure that took five years to build.”
“Xcel’s harmful actions are likely to force 400 Colorado small businesses (including Adobe Solar) to close doors and bring an end to Colorado’s solar industry,” Adobe Solar owner Greg Koss writes on his company’s website.
Koss is concerned that Xcel plans to build, own and operate “massive solar power generation systems” after a new law allowing for the creation of “community solar gardens” passed last spring. “After Xcel has successfully destroyed Colorado’s solar industry, they will be eager to use the 2 percent RESA monies they currently collect from Colorado ratepayers to purchase and own massive solar projects, rather than providing solar rebates to home and business owners who wish to build their own solar generation,” Koss states. “Xcel actions have made obvious their intentions to stop individual citizens of Colorado from installing solar on homes and businesses to hedge their electric costs and gain energy independence.”
A protest against Xcel Energy’s actions will take place on the steps of the state capital in Denver on Friday, February 25, at 12 p.m. “This is not just about Colorado–it’s also about stopping a national precedent from being set,” Jones says. For more information or to get involved, contact the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (CoSEIA) at www.coseia.org.