Xcel increases Colorado solar commitments in settlement, withdraws grid charge

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Late yesterday utility Xcel Energy announced a settlement agreement with 22 of 26 intervenors in three separate cases in Colorado. If approved by the state’s regulators, this will scale up its solar programs, create a process for battery storage interconnections, and modify rate structures. The utility has also agreed to withdraw a controversial grid access charge which it had proposed.

First, Xcel to increase its Solar*Rewards incentive program to deploy up to 342 MW of new solar PV in Colorado through 2019. This includes increasing the program for mid-sized installations to 24 MW annually, and offering a large-scale program for the first time since 2012. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says that this will more than double the capacity for commercial and industrial customers in program.

Xcel has also agreed to stop sending letters discouraging participation in net metering for those customers who are not enrolled in Solar*Rewards.

The utility will additionally reserve a portion of its Community Solar Gardens program for low-income customers, as well as increasing program capacity from 6 MW to 15 MW. Along with this, Xcel will change the name of its Solar*Connect utility-owned community solar program to Renewables*Connect, and will commit to 50 MW of new community solar installations.

SEIA VP of State Affairs Sean Gallagher notes that there were additional changes made to Renewables*Connect, which he says “make sure this program is fair, and doesn’t overwhelm the Community Solar Gardens program”.

Vote Solar Initiative singled out the new community solar program for praise. “We think the 50 MW program is a new opportunity for even more customers to commit to using solar energy,” Vote Solar Managing Director for Regulatory Affairs Ed Smeloff told pv magazine.

Even with all of these changes, many advocates have focused on the withdrawal of a controversial “grid access” charge which Xcel had proposed for its customers who go solar. “Coloradans who choose to invest in rooftop solar will avoid a confusing and unnecessary new charge,” notes Lauren Randall, senior manager of public policy for Sunrun, a party to the settlement.

The agreement also affects rate structures. Xcel has agreed to begin offering time-of-use (TOU) rates, measured in 15-minute increments, on a voluntary basis to tens of thousands of customers. If these tests are deemed successful, Xcel plans to roll out TOU rates for all customers in 2020. “Such rates generally lead to a more efficient use of energy and will be more beneficial to EV users,” noted Xcel in a press release explaining the changes.

Finally, Xcel says that it will institute a process for battery storage interconnections.

The 22 parties agreeing to part or all of the settlement include seven solar companies, advocates and trade groups, including SEIA, Vote Solar Initiative and Sunrun. Statements from SEIA and Sunrun praised the agreement, which will now go before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for approval.

“This settlement, signed by more than 20 parties, represents a turning point in Colorado’s energy future,” notes SEIA’s Gallagher. “It was a massive undertaking and Xcel Energy should be praised for their leadership.”

“We strongly encourage the Colorado Public Utility Commission to approve this deal, so Coloradans can begin reaping the environmental and economic benefits of further solar adoption statewide.”