Sunday, October 12, 2014

Colorado Needs A Better Plan For Solar Energy

Solar panels are attached to a church in Boulder. Coloradans deserve
better than the current system of solar subsidies, writes Libby Szabo.
(Boulder Camera file photo)
Over the last four years, I have represented constituents in Arvada and north Jefferson County — and the vision and values of our communities — at the Colorado legislature.

One of my top priorities is to help craft and support policies that strike the right balance for all of our citizens.

With this in mind, our state's framework for subsidizing solar power is an issue that is worthy of a thorough review. It is important to examine how the good intentions of encouraging greater usage of residential rooftop solar power are inadvertently producing troublesome outcomes for most Colorado consumers.

While solar technology is becoming more affordable, it is still quite expensive for the average consumer. To offset the costs of solar panel installation or leasing, numerous subsidies have been introduced to boost the number of solar panels on homeowners' roofs. One of the troubling aspects of our current policy is that a limited group of solar panel owners are disproportionately benefiting from the solar subsidies at the expense of consumers who either cannot afford to install solar power in the houses they own or are simply renters.

One subsidy in question is the billing mechanism known as "net metering." Under this policy, rooftop solar owners are reimbursed or credited for the excess power they supply to the electric grid. The question is not whether those with solar power should be compensated for any excess power they put back on the grid; the question is, rather, how much should they be paid for it? Current policy requires electric utilities such Xcel to pay solar power owners the full retail rate for their excess power.

The problem is, when you factor in all the costs that go into bringing electricity to market — costs for things like wires, poles, transformers, and more — it's clear that the "retail" rate that utilities charge all consumers for electricity includes costs well beyond just power generation itself.

Now, as result of net metering, individuals who have the luxury of being able to purchase, install, and use solar power systems are also able to rely on our shared electric grid when the sun isn't shining — without having to help pay for all that goes into maintaining that system on which they depend.

A recent study by the American Public Power Association analyzed how we balance the costs and benefits of solar power subsidies including net metering. The report finds that indirect subsidization of solar installations (like net metering) has actually created higher utility rates and cost shifting among utility customers.

In other words, the costs of the net metering subsidy are shifted to the remaining energy consumers, including renters and those who can't afford solar power technology.

It is important to remember that solar power itself isn't the problem. For me and many communities, it's simply about fairness.

Coloradans deserve better than the current system of solar subsidies. Let's do what's necessary to create a more balanced framework for clean energy.


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