It seems that just about every year in Colorado, Xcel Energy’s Public Service Company of Colorado’s Solar*Rewards program is too popular for its own good. The incentive program for small-sized solar installations in its service area is once again fully subscribed. In an attempt to make sure that more of Xcel’s residential and small business customers can access incentives through the program for the rest of the year and into early 2014, Xcel, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) announced on April 30 that they are collaborating to propose a temporary increase in program capacity.
The Solar*Rewards program is for Xcel’s smaller, distributed solar generators and is part of its larger efforts to meet Colorado’s renewable energy portfolio standards. This requirement means the energy company must source 30 percent of its electric generation and 3 percent of its retail sales from distributed generation by 2020. “We are ahead of the minimum standards for all categories of renewable energy including distributed generation,” explains Xcel Regional Vice President of Rates and Regulatory Affairs Karen Hyde.
Xcel’s Solar*Rewards program for 2012 and 2013 included 9.6 megawatts of small distributed photovoltaic installations — 10 kilowatts and under, which was approved by Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). In the past few days, the stepped program was fully subscribed with the latest recipients receiving an incentive of 11 cents per kilowatt hour produced for the first 10 years of the system’s production — 7 cents per kilowatt hour if the system was owned by a third-party company like SunRun or Clean Power Finance.
Xcel can’t just extend the amount of incentives it offers; after all the program is funded through a 2 percent rider on all Xcel Energy customer bills. “We will need approval from the commission,” Hyde explains. “We’ll make an application in the middle of May and continue to take applications to cue up folks for the incentives,” she says.
If Xcel chose not to file an extension, its incentives for systems that are 10 kilowatts (of electric) or less would be suspended across its service territories until a new compliance plan is approved for 2014 and beyond. That would imperil jobs in Colorado and slow down an industry that’s been helping grow the state’s economy over the past few years. By expanding the offering now, Xcel “opens up more capacity for 2013 and more for early 2014,” Hyde explains. The company will file plans for 2014 and beyond later.
In the past, Xcel’s drawdowns of the Solar*Rewards program had drawn criticism from solar installers. To help avoid that, the energy company is working with SEIA and COSEIA on a proposal. During the proposal's development, individual parties will consult with other interested parties.
“Colorado’s solar leadership is really something to be proud of. Our homes and businesses are going solar in record numbers, and that investment is putting people to work all across the state. This proposal will allow us to keep building on that success by adding enough solar energy to power thousands of homes,” said Edward Stern, executive director of COSEIA.
While the parties are still working out a proposal, Xcel will continue to accept applications for the program, according to Hyde. But before it can provide the incentives a new plan must be put in place.
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