Xcel Energy Inc. (NYSE:XEL) officials said Tuesday, October 18, that its Boulder, Colorado subscribers could lose access to the utility’s solar rebates and energy efficiency programs if certain ballot measures regarding forming a new city utility pass.
Grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) system rebates, offered under Xcel’s Solar Rewards Program, provide step-down incentives over time as targets are met. The program was established in 2006, and currently provides $1.00 per watt plus $0.09 cents for each kilowatt-hour, or kWh, for customer-owned systems. Third-party installations receive $0.16 per kWh.
The program’s target for 2011 is 59 megawatts, at a dollar value of about $97 million. Solar Rewards was reinstated in March after Xcel Energy suspended the program altogether in late February subsequent to drawing the ire of ratepayers, regulators and solar industry advocates by prematurely altering the payout schedule. The program for systems larger than 10 kWh remains on hold.
Xcel Energy’s energy efficiency programs in Colorado include a rebate program for appliances (like refrigerators, central air conditioning units, insulation and weatherization initiatives), and energy audits ranging from $60 to $120. Typical costs for the same service from independent audit firms run at least $450, plus $50 for each additional 1000 square feet over 2000.
The warning of future cuts, if two measures – 2B, an increase in Xcel Energy taxes which the city would use for a feasibility study, and 2C, which would allow voters to actually endorse creating a municipal utility to replace Xcel – are passed, reportedly came from a news release, which no longer appears to be available on the utility’s website.
Of course, even if both measures pass, it will take years for the city of Boulder to transition from Xcel Energy as an electricity supplier to its own, homegrown municipal utility, with all the benefits and risks that entails.
Still, said Xcel VP Jerome Davis (in that inaccessible news release), during the five or more years such a transition would require, the utility might have no option but to discontinue access from Boulder ratepayers to its Solar Rewards, Savers Switch, and energy efficiency and conservation programs.
So sayeth Xcel. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) may have a different take on the issue. Particularly since Xcel’s Boulder customers – who live in one of the “greenest” of small cities (population 294, 567) – represent 20 percent of the utility’s rooftop solar PV installations and seven percent of energy-efficiency rebates. Boulder was one of the first cities in the U.S. to embrace smart grid technology.
While PUC staffers and city planners investigate the hoops that Xcel Energy would have to jump through to restrict Boulder ratepayers from its programs, and Xcel and the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition outgun their opponents, at least in terms of dollars (about $660,000 versus $66,000), Boulder continues to contribute to the level of solar engagement, which in Colorado represents a total of 103.6 megawatts of capacity, putting that state in the No. 5 position in 2010. In fact, even the state’s university ranks in the top 10 of “green” learning centers.
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