Denver, CO– With roughly 543 MW of Solar Electric Capacity and 26 watts/capita installed in 2015, Colorado has more solar power capacity per capita than all but 9 others nationwide. But the Colorful State’s solar stature is under increasing attack by Xcel Energy and other utilities.
In fact, the state’s experience, detailed in Environment Colorado’s Research & Policy Center’s latest ranking of state solar capacity, is part of a growing trend: the places where solar is booming the most are those where utility interests are attacking it the hardest.
“The more solar grows here in Colorado, the more big utilities try to stop it,” said Kim Stevens, Director of Environment Colorado. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, Xcel Energy is working to undermine the policies that have helped us become solar leaders.”
The study’s top states (which includes Colorado) for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have long held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.
“Making the choice to go solar has never been easier and more accessible than it is right now," said Joe Montoya, Residential Sales Director with Colorado-based solar company, Namaste Solar. "We’ve seen a decrease in the cost of solar, and an increase in home and business owners deciding that solar is the best energy solution for them. We look forward to being a part of the exciting future of solar.”
But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model.
“Colorado is still a leader in the U.S. for solar energy, but our state is falling in solar rankings when compared to other states,” said Charlie Wilde, owner of Ecology Solar. “Much more can be done by Xcel and the Public Utility Commission to encourage the adoption and use of rooftop solar energy to power homes, businesses, and electric vehicles.”
Xcel Energy has unclear plans for the future of solar, and is currently working to change the way residents are charged for energy, where those with solar pay more. This thinly veiled attempt to cripple solar growth comes after years of attacks on net metering.
In Arizona, one major utility charged a few nee on new solar customers, depressing rooftop solar power growth in its 1 million-person service area; two other utilities in the state are now pressing to institute similar charges and eliminate their retail net metering programs.
Anti-solar salvos like these come as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of the renewable energy resource nationwide. In February solar cleared the milestone of 1 million installations across the country. In Colorado, our state has set limits on permitting fees that local governments can charge for solar installations.
Small businesses, local elected officials, and average Coloradans are also demonstrating their support to becoming solar powered. Coloradans are using policies that allow third-party ownership of solar panels. This avoids the cost of directly buying a panel, helping small businesses and homeowners to invest in solar energy. Colorado also has strong net metering, interconnection, and creative financing policies as well as renewable electricity standards. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing is available in Colorado and reduces the cost of solar energy, allowing consumers to pay back the cost of solar energy systems over time and save in the long-run.
And solar is popular. A recent Colorado College poll shows yet again that solar is the most favored form of energy, no matter your political affiliation. The poll also shows that more than 70% of Coloradans want to continue tax incentives for solar and wind.
Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in Colorado and the other nine leading-edge states, who make up 88 percent of the nation’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. All have renewable energy requirements, and nine [including Colorado] have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid. [Only Colorado and two others lack strong net metering standards.]
And Colorado cities are truly leading the way.
“I’m proud of Fort Collins’ success at increasing solar generation,” said Ross Cunniff, Fort Collins City Councilor. “In the past couple of years we have tripled our solar generation capacity. We have done this through initiatives such as our net metering program and our community solar project, which has added 2,000 solar panels to our inventory.”
But Environment Colorado warned that utilities weren’t letting up on their quest to erode such policies. For instance, Environment Colorado is participating in the campaign to Light the Way increase solar use in Colorado and keep the state in the Top Ten states that drive America’s solar energy boom.
“These attacks by Xcel Energy and their allies are a desperate finger in the dike against the tide of support for solar,” said Stevens. “It’s time for our utilities to stop blocking clean energy and ride the solar wave.”
Environment Colorado is the statewide, citizen-funded advocacy group working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.