Our first “blomic” on the very unfunny issue of the gutting of the residential solar rebate in Colorado. (To view far right panels, click and hold the white arrow and drag the comic strip to the left).

A mere seven months ago, lured by sunny skies and hefty utility-sponsored solar rebates, Sungevity began offering the Solar Lease to homeowners in Colorado. Then came the one-two punch: First, Black Hills Energy, which serves southeastern Colorado, pulled the plug on its solar rebate program. Then, last week, the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, slashed and burned its Solar Rewards program, cutting the rebate from $2/watt to 25 cents/watt.

The announcement came as a sledgehammer in the darkness–no one outside of Xcel saw it coming, and the Colorado solar industry is reeling from the blow.

When a renewable energy company enters a new market, there’s a mind-blowing amount of paperwork that must be done in order to comply with local requirements and procedures: Not only does every state and every municipality have its own set of rules & regs; each utility has its own procedures that renewable energy providers must learn and adopt. Entering a new market is a big investment, but one that we expect will be worth it over the long term.

For Sungevity, navigating the byzantine bureaucratic maze is a labor of love. But when a utility abruptly and without warning drops the rebate, the love affair is over. Solar leasing companies have only been able to access the Xcel rebate since September, 2009, less than a year and a half ago. Just as solar leasing companies like ours were beginning to establish ourselves in Colorado, Xcel pulled the plug, destabilizing the solar market just as it was ramping up. We’re mighty peeved and, if you live in Colorado and were hoping to get control of your electricity bill, you probably are too.

Neal Lurie, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association(CoSEIA), said Xcel’s move could be extremely damaging to an industry just getting its start. “This is absolutely devastating to the solar industry,” Lurie told the Denver Post. “No industry can survive this kind of shock.” CoSEIA warns that the suspension of the rebate could result in the loss of 3000 jobs over the next three months. More job cuts, just what we need!

I asked regional energy planning expert Bill Powers of Powers Engineering why he thinks Xcel is cutting the rebate. Powers says that most utilities are “hanging on with a death grip” to the conventional business model: Build a power plant, and sell the juice. When people start generating their own power, the utility effectively loses them as customers. Also, in order to get approval for building a new power plant, utilities must demonstrate that increased demand for electricity will soon outstrip supply; but if an increasing number of homeowners go solar, demand on the grid decreases. In other words, all its greenwashed PR aside, Xcel doesn’t actually want its customers to go solar. Grrr!

The Colorado Public Utility Commission (PUC) has the power to approve or block Xcel’s attempt to gut its solar rebate. And that’s where you come in: Give the PUC a piece of your mind using the online comment form. And, if you live in Denver, turn out for a big rally at the State Capitol (200 E. Colfax Ave.) on February 25 at high noon.

As a giant utility, Xcel cannot be permitted to make a snap decision with enormous consequences for businesses and ratepayers. Any change in the Solar Rewards program should be the final outcome of a transparent public process in which all stakeholders are given notice and consulted.

We’ll keep you posted on developments in Colorado. Don’t give up hope..we’re not!

–Erica Etelson

Posted by Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy co-founded Sungevity and now serves as strategic advisor. He is an internationally recognized opinion leader on climate and energy issues. He is the author of Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Planet - from Dirty Energy (2012), a book that has been described as the clean energy manifesto for the next greatest generation.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for rallying the troops! Many of my friends work in solar, and the shock is just beginning to wear off. We never saw this coming, which now seem plain stupid. Keep up the advocacy!

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