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Written by Amanda H. Miller


Rooftop solar advocates raised their voices in Colorado this week.

The Alliance for Solar Choice, a solar industry group focused on public policy, coordinated several events aimed at raising awareness and support for solar among Colorado lawmakers and regulators.

Colorado is one among many states where utility companies are pushing to reduce net metering benefits. Net metering is the policy in 43 states that require utilities to pay home and business owners for the excess power they generate and feed back onto the grid.

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy pays the retail rate for excess solar – 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour – that rooftop solar customers generate. However, the utility is arguing that the power is only worth 4.6 cents and has asked the Public Utilities Commission to change the net metering policy.

Hundreds of Colorado solar industry leaders showed up on capital hill Tuesday for Lobby Day, said Meghan Nutting, TASC member and director of government affairs for SolarCity.

“We don’t have a legislative play in Colorado right now,” Nutting said. “We just wanted to get the conversation started. We did have a really good discussion with the house majority leader.”

There was also significant public support for solar spreading throughout the state Tuesday.

“Colorado Solar Rights was the most trending topic on Twitter in Denver,” Nutting said.

On Wednesday, the PUC heard from stakeholders in three hours of comment. The speakers had signed up in advance and brought great insight and perspective to the discussion, but there was no public comment allowed.

Commissioners will be taking public comment through April 29 when they are expected to make a decision about how to proceed.

PUC Chairman Joshua Epel said he wanted everyone to “put their stake in the ground” and say what they thought the price should be excess power generated with rooftop solar panels.

“He’s definitely ready to get into it,” Nutting said.

Others said the PUC should commission a study. And still others argued there are already too many studies – it’s time for action.

One recurring point in the discussion was that net metering poses no serious threat to utilities yet. Less than 1 percent of Xcel’s energy portfolio in Colorado comes from distributed solar, Nutting said.

That hasn’t stopped utilities in other states from fighting net metering either. The Kansas legislature just secured the future of net metering there. The utilities tried to do away with the benefit even though only 201 of 900,000 households have rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines.

“With such a tiny solar market, these powerful utilities thought they would be able to completely eliminate net metering without anyone noticing,” according to a release from TASC. “Instead, more than 550 customers contacted their Senator in support of net metering.”

The various battles against net metering around the country are just a distraction from the real issue, Nutting said.

“This is really about the utility business model,” she said. “It hasn’t changed in more than 100 years. It’s time.”