A showdown between the solar industry and a large electric utility, Xcel Energy, is unfolding here in Colorado.
In play: Xcel’s Solar*Rewards rebates for residential solar systems. The utility, which has handed out $178 million in rebates over the past four years, wants to slash its rebate by 38 percent, from $2.01 per watt to $1.25 per watt.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will rule on Xcel’s request to lower its rebates, probably sometime this spring. In the meantime, Xcel, which has added 76 megawatts of solar to the Colorado grid since the Solar*Rewards Program began in 2006, has stopped taking applications for the program.
The move has effectively put at least a temporary halt to solar industry sales in Xcel’s substantial territory – Xcel has 1.4 million customers in Colorado.
Xcel says solar panel prices have fallen enough to justify lowering the rebate.
Thousands of jobs at stake
Meanwhile, the Colorado solar industry is saying that, if approved, Xcel’s proposed rebate cut will radically harm solar growth in the state, which now has nearly 6,000 jobs directly related to solar.
Xcel’s proposed rebate reductions have mobilized the Colorado solar industry, which is planning to hold a rally on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol this Friday (see sidebar for more information).
At this point, it’s unclear how the Colorado PUC might rule on Xcel’s request to lower its rebate levels, although it seems pretty clear that if the PUC does approve the request, it will have a radical downward effect on residential solar sales – and solar leases – in Colorado, which, up to this point in time, has been one of America’s solar stars.
While the battle between Xcel and the Colorado solar industry might seem relatively inconsequential in a national or international terms, the controversy unfolding here in our backyard – we live in Aurora, Colo. and have ourselves benefitted from Xcel’s Solar*Rewards rebate — is about much more than the battle between one utility and solar advocates in the Rocky Mountain state.
A broader battle about basic values
This fight is about American society’s values — and its future.
Is the U.S. going to continue to wrap itself around a self-destructive model of energy production rooted in the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and, yes, that supposedly “clean” fossil fuel source, natural gas — whose “clean” harvest is rapidly polluting America’s drinking water?
Are Americans going to continue to short-sightedly out-subsidize fossil fuels over solar by a 70-to-1 ratio (see graphic at end of story), while continuing to believe the rhetoric that fossil fuels are “cheaper” than renewable energy forms, even as the evidence against this rhetoric continues to mount? (Consider, for example, the just released Harvard Public Health study which found that coal actually costs the U.S. $500 billion a year.)
Are we going to continue to buy into false economic logic and theory which designates the real costs of actions such as the mining and burning of coal and the disposal of coal waste as so-called economic “externalities”, meaning costs that allegedly should not be included in the cost of doing coal business?
Or are we going to move in a direction that recognizes the real value of renewable energy forms such as solar, wind and geothermal, and invest in building our society around these forms, an act that will not only clean up our air, our water, our lungs, but which will also save us money?
Taking a stand for renewable energy
If America and the world are to move toward a greener, cleaner future rooted in a clear appreciation of the true cost of energy production, then we must take a concrete stand for renewable energy.
This is a big reason why I started this web site in September of 2009, why we went solar in June of 2010, why we will soon be plugging in an electric car into our solar system and taking a big step toward kicking gas, and why I will be at the COSEIA rally this Friday in support of maintaining reasonable subsidies for solar in Colorado. Such subsidies will not only help an industry, but will help to save Colorado, the U.S., and the world from an unhealthy and costly fossil fuel dominated future.
- Fossil fuel subsides dwarf those for solar
- There’s a better way than oil: Solar
- What if the electric grid were 100 percent coal?
- What comes first — the solar system or the EV?