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Published on January 19th, 2014 | by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC)


Xcel Fiction: Four Lies My Utility Told Me

January 19th, 2014 by  

In December, Xcel Energy’s Frank Prager appeared on CPR’s Colorado Matters and spread blatant untruths about rooftop solar in Colorado. While Prager’s comments are a stark contrast to Xcel’s own carefully-cultivated brand image—after all, Xcel’s slogan is ‘responsible by nature’ – they align perfectly with utilities’ coordinated attacks on rooftop solar nationwide.

Here are four Prager fictions suggesting that Xcel may be closer to your basic anti-solar, anti-choice utility than they’d like you to believe.

1. “The Net Metering Incentive” Myth: Xcel rolled out the “I” word to depict the Colorado solar customer as some kind of freeloader, when in fact the opposite is true– net metering is fair credit for the solar customer’s contribution to the grid. When Xcel delivers electricity to its customers, they get paid for it. Shouldn’t the solar customer likewise be credited for the electricity they deliver to the grid, especially when Xcel takes that electricity and sells it to the customer’s neighbors? Keep in mind Xcel paid nothing to generate, transmit or distribute that cleaner power.

And likely not coincidentally, we don’t hear Xcel taking to the airwaves to decry something that really is an incentive, and a dangerous one at that: subsidies for fossil fuels. For example, Percentage Depletion is a subsidy that allows fossil fuel companies to take a substantial tax deduction (15% of gross revenue for oil and gas; 10% for coal) for using up reserves of natural resources.  This costs the American taxpayer about $1 billion per year. Xcel is extremely selective about what it chooses to label an “incentive” and what it doesn’t.  It’s clear that they’re attacking clean, renewable energy.

2. The fictitious “solar customer needs to pay their fair share”: As if point #1 isn’t enough to suggest Xcel has a bizarre view of what’s ‘fair’, Prager rolls out this line, which dozens of utilities across the country all began using in the last two years.

Coloradans with solar pay more than their fair share given that net metered solar delivers an annual net benefit of $13.6 million to all Xcel ratepayers. Let’s break down three possibilities for a solar customer for any 24-hour period in Xcel territory:

A. Mary Solar Customer is consuming solar electricity. It’s daytime, her solar system is producing electricity, and the customer is watching the Broncos game while running the dishwasher and charging a laptop computer. None of this activity touches the Xcel grid.  It’s all powered by Mary’s solar system. In other words, she’s not using any Xcel product. She therefore does not owe Xcel for this consumption, just like she doesn’t owe Xcel for a lamp she doesn’t turn on.

B. Mary is consuming Xcel electricity. And she’s paying for it, just like any other customer. Maybe it’s night time, maybe she’s consuming more electricity than her solar system is supplying. In any case, she’s paying for the Xcel electricity she’s consuming and the infrastructure needed to create that electricity.

C. Mary’s solar system is producing more than she’s consuming. Perhaps the Broncos game, the fridge, the dishwasher, and the charging laptop are not using up all the solar electricity that’s being produced by her system. In that case, the surplus solar electricity goes back to the grid for Mary’s neighbors to consume. That’s a very good thing: sending solar energy from one house to another next door is a lot cleaner and more efficient than sending fossil fuel-generated electricity from hundreds of miles away. And, as mentioned above, it saves Xcel money to the tune of $13.6 million per year.

That’s  pretty fair. And, frankly, good for the environment and all ratepayers.

3. The “not concerned about competition” lie, or “That’s not what Xcel is doing”.  Xcel has clearly paid attention to these debates in other states and seen the unpopularity of utilities’ anti-solar positions. They don’t want to harm their reputation by admitting to attacking solar, which according to recent polls, is incredibly popular in Colorado.

But make no mistake: Xcel’s attack on solar follows the national playbook. Infamous rightwing ‘shadow government’ ALEC has plans to launch precisely this strategy across the country this year.

Xcel Energy helps fund ALEC to the tune of thousands of dollars each year through Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which prescribed attacks of this nature in a January 2013 report about the threat to utility monopoly status posed by rooftop solar.   EEI itself provides funding to ALEC, and the two organizations work in partnership to lobby state legislatures on behalf of the utility industry.  See here for more details.

While Xcel likes to try to depict itself as a different, better utility, the strategy they’re pursuing against their own customers aligns them with the most retrograde status quo.

4. Utility-scale solar cost confusion. Xcel makes a guaranteed rate of return on utility-scale solar projects. Rooftop solar, what Coloradans put on their homes to use less Xcel fossil fuel energy, threatens Xcel’s profitable arrangement because customers invest their own capital to install the system. It’s not about ratepayers or fairness for Xcel. It’s about profits.

For the Xcel ratepayer, rooftop solar is a good investment, even when it’s their neighbor Mary who goes solar.  Rooftop solar is currently 1% of overall electricity supply in Xcel territory, and Xcel will be selling the vast majority of the energy in its territory for decades to come. By trying to roll back net metering, Xcel is undermining Coloradans’ investments in clean energy, limiting customer energy choice and trying to stifle rooftop solar growth.  These Coloradans provide a benefit to the state, their fellow ratepayers, and a planet that needs us to use less fossil fuel electricity every day. 


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About the Author

advocates for maintaining successful distributed solar energy policies, such as retail net metering, throughout the United States. Retail net metering (NEM) provides fair credit to residents, businesses, churches, schools, and other public agencies when their solar systems export excess energy to the grid. The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) was formed on the belief that anyone should have the option to switch from utility power to distributed solar power, and realize the financial benefits therein. The rooftop solar market has been largely driven by Americans’ desire to assert control over their electric bills, a trend that should be encouraged.

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