In what is being lauded as a “fair outcome” for consumers, utilities and the solar industry alike, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week voted that no changes will be made to the state’s net metering policy, which currently reimburses solar customers at the retail rate of 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
Colorado’s largest utility provider, Xcel Energy, argued that existing net metering rate design was giving solar customers hidden incentives that could result in a cost shift between solar and non-solar customers. The utility asked the PUC to examine if existing rates were too high, which they claimed could result in solar customers not paying their share of grid costs. The PUC’s oral decision, which is expected to be released in written form in the coming weeks, concluded that no changes would be enacted.
The result of the ruling is expected to bolster confidence among existing and potential solar customers, who will continue to receive bill credits of 10.5 cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity their rooftop systems put into the grid.
Sara Birmingham, director of western states for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said the PUC’s decision was “incredibly important” and will deliver a message of “predictability and transparency” that she views as necessary to consumers still on the fence about the cost effectiveness of adopting solar for their homes.
Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado SEIA, said net metering “provides an important right for consumers to generate their own clean energy and receive fair credit for power they are sharing with neighbors.” She added that the PUC’s decision “will hopefully provide confidence to people who are considering going solar.”
The PUC’s ruling came after more than a year of exhaustive deliberation that included the hosting of a series of workshops and brought in the involvement of experts from numerous groups on both sides of the dispute. Birmingham praised the proceedings as a “deliberate and collaborative” effort she believes serves as a positive example of how such future discussions could and should be held.
“The process the PUC put forward is one that should be replicated across the country,” Birmingham said. “It really gave a chance for all of the stakeholders to come forward and give their perspectives, and put all of that data into the record.”
That drawn out, comprehensive process is likely to ensure that no appeals to the decision will be filed by Xcel Energy, although avenues do remain open for that possibility. Early indications are that no appeal will be pursued, with Xcel Energy spokesperson Mark Stutz having said, “There’s really nothing to appeal.”
According to the PUC, the Xcel Solar Rewards program has resulted in the installation of more than 25,000 solar systems since 2006.
The PUC’s finding came the same week that the Nevada PUC voted to keep net metering in place through the end of 2015, following NV Energy’s announcement that the state’s 235 MW net metering cap had been reached.
Lead image: Two solar workers install solar panels on home Credit: Shutterstock