Colorado net metering fight reveals shifting utility attitudes towards solar

US solar advocacy group the Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), in pointing out position reversal on the part of a Colorado utility towards solar net metering policy, has highlighted the ongoing battle for solar system owners’ rights that is playing out across the country.

The utility in question, Xcel, is currently arguing against net metering arrangements for the state. In the US, ‘net metering’ refers to payments from utilities to homes and businesses for excess solar power that goes into the grid, usually at a rate that is equivalent to what they pay for electricity. At the moment, most US states mandate some kind of net metering arrangement, but utilities have started to come out against them nearly across the board.

As reported recently, utilities in Florida and Utah have staked out positions that seem intended to slow the deployment of distributed solar in those states, even as they were at one time ambivalent towards or supportive of uptake of the technology. Several years ago in Florida, for example, utilities allowed TASC to be involved in roundtable discussions that paved the way for today’s net metering policy there. As the solar industry in the state has grown, relations between utilities and TASC appear to have soured, with the solar campaigners having been voted out of participating in the most recent policy discussions there.

This time in Colorado, TASC claims that Xcel has changed its tune with regard to net metering policy. In 2007 the utility was quoted in the local Denver Post as saying that solar net metering would benefit both customers as well as Xcel itself. “Xcel officials maintain that all customers benefit because solar systems delay the need to build expensive power plants and reduce prospective future taxes on carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power.”

TASC president Bryan Miller says that the fact that solar PV has become a mainstream technology has put Xcel on their back foot. “Now that rooftop solar is a true form of competition, they oppose it,” he said in a media release.

The stories of Colorado, Florida and Utah are not dissimilar those coming out of Australia, where utilities and vested interests have been fighting solar incentives across the board. The net metering battle was lost in virtually every state as soon as state-mandated solar feed-in tariff incentives were phased out.

Solar power nevertheless remains an attractive options to many Australian homes and businesses, due to high electricity prices and low solar system installation costs. Installation numbers have managed to remain steady in the period since feed-in tariffs have closed.

Top image via Wikipedia

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