According to a new study from the Vote Solar Initiative, distributed solar energy systems currently in Colorado utility Xcel Energy's service area deliver as much as $11 million in annual benefits to Colorado ratepayers.
The findings were submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in opposition to a study from Xcel Energy that could be used to revise the state's net energy metering policy, which the utility says unfairly burdens non-solar ratepayers with costs to benefit solar customers.
Released in July as part of the utility's 2014 Renewable Energy Standard compliance plan, the Xcel proposal asks the PUC to clarify the costs and benefits of net energy metering for solar power users and non-solar ratepayers. A number of solar sector advocates, including Vote Solar, took issue with Xcel's proposal, saying it was a veiled attack on net energy metering. Vote Solar says the utility used a cost and benefit study of its own design that had not yet undergone public or commission review to make its case against the successful solar policy.
‘Xcel has significantly undervalued solar power from its customers, and we are determined not to let their incomplete math be used to dismantle the most important rooftop solar energy policy on the books," says Annie Lappe, solar policy director at Vote Solar. ‘We encourage the commission to look closely at the serious flaws in Xcel's approach to assessing the impacts of this policy.’
Xcel Energy says more than 15,000 of its customers currently participate in the company's Solar*Rewards program, representing more than 160 MW of solar capacity. The utility says solar generation does allow it to avoid the cost of fuel, some future generating plant needs and some system energy losses, but argues that other costs related to distribution, transmission and generation capacity are not avoided, so they ultimately are paid for by other Xcel customers in Colorado.
Vote Solar says its new study, undertaken by Crossborder Energy, finds that the financial benefits of net-metered power in Xcel Energy's Colorado territory outweigh the costs, with a total net value of between $7 million and $11 million per year, depending on the price of natural gas and the future cost of greenhouse gas regulations. Benefits cited include reduced spending on power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure, as well as savings from local solar power generation during periods of peak energy usage.