November 9th Update: Today, the Colorado PUC unanimously approved the landmark energy settlement between Xcel Energy and two dozen organizations, including Vote Solar.  The settlement is a major victory for solar progress in Colorado and for increasing solar access in low-income communities. Below are the details of the settlement. 

August 15, 2016: Colorado's major utility, Xcel Energy's PSCo, and parties including Vote Solar have reached a settlement that, if approved by state regulators, will expand consumer solar access across the state, particularly among low-income communities. 

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The agreement allows the utility to launch a new “Renewable*Connect” program providing subscription-based solar energy to its customers unable to avail themselves of rooftop solar.  Additionally, the rate design for residential and small commercial customers will begin a transition to time-of-use (TOU) based rates which both better reflects utility costs and provides a price signal to which customers can respond.  For those interested in other details ...
 
Solar Programs for Low-Income Consumers:
 
Affordable solar offers an exciting opportunity to address some of the biggest financial and health challenges facing low-income families, and unleashing that potential requires dedicated policies and programs. This settlement took an exciting step toward making good on solar's promise with a suite of low-income provisions:
  • Colorado Energy Office will offer a rooftop low-income program, coupled with its weatherization program, to leverage DOE funding to provide solar systems to low-income participants. PSCo will provide a $2/W rebate. Program size: 300 participants (75 in year 1, 100 in year 2, 125 in year 3).
  • In the state's successful Community Solar Gardens shared solar program, PSCo will take on the 5% low-income participation requirements from developers.
  • There will be an incremental 4 MW/yr Community Solar Garden program offering 100% low-income participation offered through an RFP.
  • 500 kW of the maximum amount of the Community Solar Gardens program will be set aside annually for a low-income standard offer. The REC incentive to be paid for the standard offer participants will be the average annual awarded REC plus $0.01/kWh. Max size < 100 kW.
Net Metering for Rooftop Solar:
 
Net metering ensures solar customers receive full, fair credit on their utility bills for the valuable solar power they deliver to the grid. This settlement preserves this important policy while making a few key changes to provide a foundation for continued growth:
  • Net metering parties will have equivalent rate design treatment, whether or not they receive a Solar*Rewards incentive. PSCo agreed to not propose prior to the next Phase II rate case any new tariff that would alter this treatment. 
  • Non-Solar*Rewards customers will be required to install a production meter, yet the cost of doing so will be paid for through the RESA account.
  • For net metering customers that opt for an annual roll-over, the monthly crediting will be done on a monetary basis. This is a very important concept, particularly when used in combination with TOU rates. If a net metering customer opts for an annual “cash out”, the credit will be carried over in energy, and then the credit will be rolled the other periods (i.e. on-peak can offset off-peak and shoulder periods, etc).
  • PSCo commits to providing the ability to sign up for net metering-only systems on-line.
Grid & Interconnection Issues:
 
When a customer goes solar, he or she typically must first 'plug' into the utility grid. The rules for this process should be transparent and fair.
 
  • PSCo commits to developing a grid information study to make available possible interconnection points on the system via a “stop light- green light” type of demarcation.
  • With respect to rates, PSCo withdrew its Grid Usage Charge, and will be testing an residential TOU rate. Customers may opt into this rate (and have a 2 month window in which they can cancel if they don’t like it). The goal is to learn from information collected through this initial test, refine the rate as necessary, and move towards across the board implementation of the TOU rate design. Parties also agreed to not oppose the concept of decoupling (for which PSCo has made a separate filing), but are free to make recommendations for modifications to the proposal.
  • PSCo has also agreed to work with stakeholders to examine, outside the context of a litigated proceeding, the avoided generation costs provided by solar resources and the benefits of integrating a variety of distributed energy resources into the grid.
 
Colorado is already a leader in many ways when it comes to our nation's growing solar economy. This settlement means more good news for Colorado. It will ensure that more of the state's energy consumers will have the opportunity to benefit from the local jobs, energy bill savings, and cleaner air that solar delivers. The agreement also recognizes the importance of good regulatory process through a series of subsequent stakeholder workshops in several important technical and policy areas when deciding these critical solar issues. We look forward to participating in those future conversations to help keep Colorado shining. 

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