On Wednesday, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously approved a landmark settlement agreement reached between Xcel Energy and two dozen organizations. The Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), which played a key role last summer in negotiating the settlement across three separate dockets, has praised the decision and says it will provide progress on energy policy for years to come.
“Today’s decision will allow Colorado’s vibrant solar industry to move ahead in deploying clean, affordable solar energy and planning for next-generation policies and technologies,” says Rebecca Cantwell, COSEIA executive director, in a press release. “Coloradans will gain more control over their energy use by having the option to choose to try out advanced rates. In addition to saving money by generating clean energy from their own solar panels, Coloradans will have the option of installing energy storage systems. And low-income Coloradans will gain the option of true energy security through a robust program of community and rooftop solar options for those least able to pay for energy.”
The settlement, described by Xcel Energy as the largest of its kind in Colorado history, brought together the utility with 26 intervenors ranging from large industrial users to environmental advocates. In negotiations lasting all summer, COSEIA and other key parties worked to resolve scores of issues in three separate proposals filed by Xcel with the PUC. COSEIA says the settlement allowed the parties to avoid months of costly litigation.
Chairman Joshua Epel has expressed thanks to all the parties who negotiated the settlement, saying, “I’m really pleased that 24 of 26 parties were able to achieve a settlement that expands all kinds of solar energy. This was a Herculean effort, and I’m proud that you have set a trajectory for the state on expanding renewable energy… that I think is a model for the nation.”
In a separate statement, Alice Jackson, regional vice president for rates and regulatory affairs, says, “The decision today is great for all of the parties that participated in this process, but it is particularly beneficial for our Colorado customers. The decision will allow us to give our customers more control over their energy choices, one of the key components of ‘Our Energy Future.’ The settlement also meets our other goals, as it will bring more renewable and carbon-free energy to Colorado through the use of new technologies, and it will provide affordable and reliable energy to further power the state’s economy.”
The settlement calls for voluntary trials of two new rates for residential customers. According to COSEIA, a trial launch of time-of-use (TOU) rates will allow customers more influence over their electric bill. These rates, now popular in other markets, assign higher costs to energy during times when demand raises the cost of electricity. COSEIA says that because solar generates electricity during most of these hours, TOU rates more fairly account for the value of solar to all ratepayers. A separate pilot of time-based residential demand rates will also start next year.
According to the PUC, the settlement also allows for Xcel to offer subscriptions to a new 50 MW solar facility through its Renewable*Connect program, eliminates the company’s proposed fixed monthly grid charge, and allows for the acquisition of more than 300 MW of on-site solar and community solar gardens through the suite of Solar*Rewards programs.
As part of Xcel’s solar procurements, COSEIA notes, the deal includes 4 MW a year of dedicated solar gardens for low-income Coloradans and a separate rooftop program to install solar systems on up to 300 low-income residences.
COSEIA says it believes that among the most important parts of the settlement is the creation of four separate stakeholder groups that will enable interested parties to work informally with the utility to iron out differences and to design new programs. Two of the groups have already started meeting: One is focused on determining policies for battery energy storage systems at homes and businesses, and one is focused on designing pilot and trial programs for two new residential rate structures. Others will work on existing and future voluntary renewable energy programs.
“While we acknowledge that we all have more work to do in supporting Colorado’s strong appetite for solar, including in the emerging commercial sector, we applaud the commission’s approval today to move us forward while providing new forums to tackle issues that may arise,” says John Bringenberg, COSEIA board president, in a press release.