Extra fee for solar home owners might be no-go

editors-blog-entry3Remember that “fair share charge” Xcel Energy wanted to charge current Xcel Solar*Rewards customers in Colorado, including us?

Well, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has put a temporary halt to Xcel’s attempt to charge current solar customers extra thanks in large part to the fact that 440 people (including yours truly) filed protests against the proposed move with the Colorado PUC.

Instead of this fee — which Xcel wants to impose ostensibly in order to generate revenue to install more solar in its Colorado territory — going into effect on June 1, 2011 the Colorado PUC has suspended the implementation of this charge and set the matter for hearing and a thorough review (docket 11AL-080E).

In its ruling the Commission stated that Xcel’s proposed “terms and rates contained in the tariff may be improper.”

Monthly fair share RESA Charge
Xcel had wanted to institute a “Monthly Fair Share RESA Charge” on current Solar*Rewards customers.

It put forward the following rationale for the extra charge, which would cost homeowners with 500 watt to 5 kW grid-tied systems $1.03 per month, for those with 5 to 10 kW sized systems, $2.05 per month, and, for those with systems of 10 kW or more, $4.11 per month:

“Because Solar*Rewards customers typically have low electricity bills, many – perhaps you – pay a very small monthly RESA charge. For example, for customers who cover all of their consumption with generation and have no billable kWh, this charge can be as low as 13 cents per month.”

As I noted in a previous entry on this issue – which could affect those with grid-tied solar systems in the U.S. by setting a precedent for other utilities in other states — I’m all for growing home solar in Xcel territory.

dmNickel and diming customers?
However, the proposed monthly “Fair Share RESA Charge” — which, if approved, would cost us $24 per year — feels like a nickel-and-diming attempt to make sure that customers like us who pull a “fast one” on their utility by putting up a solar system that ensures they’ll never pay another nickel or dime to said utility for electricity don’t get away with their decades long “free ride”.

A bunch of things bother me about Xcel’s proposed “Monthly Fair Share RESA Charge”:

  • Extra fees make solar less attractive
  • Extra fees complicate things
  • Why pick on solar homeowners?
  • Why not wait until a much higher percentage of Xcel customers have solar before imposing a special “fair share” fee?
  • Xcel is already so close to its 30% renewable mandate in Colorado, will it really use the fee to grow residential solar here? Where’s the accountability?
  • Finally, Xcel already makes hefty profit margin on extra kWh produced by Solar*Rewards customers.
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It’s nice to see that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission is at least temporarily putting the brakes on this proposal.

As the policy director of the Colorado chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association R.J. Harrington put it in a recent e-mail, “This victory is sweet, but it is the first skirmish in this latest battle.”

It’s also nice we have public utilities commissions, here in Colorado and elsewhere. Without them, it seems pretty clear that customer rights and interests would be threatened, regardless of whether they have solar or not.

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