Friday, March 18, 2011

Xcel told to continue Solar Rewards

After a furor in the sustainability community in the wake of Xcel Energy's announcement that it was cutailing the Solar Rewards program for rooftop solar, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission told the investor-owned utility that the program must be reinstated.

The Colorado PUC approved a settlement March 18 that will restart Xcel Energy’s solar incentive program next week, while reducing the amount of subsidies that will be paid up front for solar installations at residences and businesses.

The settlement is a short-term bridge to restore the solar incentive program until it is fully reviewed by the PUC within the next 12-14 months. Xcel Energy had filed an application with the PUC last month seeking to reduce its solar rebate from $2 per watt to $1.25 per watt, and suspended the program the following day.

The approved settlement allows Xcel Energy to accept up to an additional 60 megawatts (MW) of solar installation applications, while capping 2011 expenditures at $97.3 million. The agreement establishes a series of step-downs to reduce the up-front solar rebate for small customer-owned systems from $1.75 a watt to zero as more solar installations are added.

Production-based incentives, spread out over 10 years, will increase from 4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) to 14 cents per kwh for small customer-owned systems as the rebates are phased out.

Community Solar Gardens can save utilities generation and transmission and distribution costs.

In 2010, Xcel announced that meeting the Colorado renewable energy standard was "not impossible."

Locally generated electricity, such as from solar gadens, can help utilities meet and exceed requirements for renewable energy in the distribution mix while saving utilities upfront costs and get renewables online far faster than through large projects in remote areas.

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