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Contentious solar energy issue raised in Colorado

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm •  Published: March 12, 2014

DENVER (AP) — When Xcel Energy raised questions about a system known as net metering that helps determine the credit homeowners get from utility companies for putting solar panels on their roofs, regulators found the issue so contentious they separated it from a review of the renewable-energy policies of Colorado's largest utility.

On Wednesday, Colorado's Public Utilities Commission set a hearing in April to start what is likely to be a protracted process of addressing questions solar proponents fear could lead to changes that could hurt their industry.

Although most states have net-metering policies, the practice has touched off debates from Vermont to Hawaii that could have a profound effect on renewable-energy policies across the nation.

In Golden, near Denver, the city council responded to possible changes in Colorado's net-metering policies with a resolution urging regulators "to reject efforts by Xcel Energy to limit net metering."

In a joint letter to state officials, Dow, the giant chemical company that also sells rooftop solar systems, and Florida-based home developer Lennar said potential buyers of solar-equipped houses in Colorado are showing hesitancy because of concern that regulators might tinker with net metering.

' "The reality is that we'd like an answer as soon as possible," David Kaiserman, whose SunStreet Energy installs solar systems in Lennar homes, said in an interview. "But we don't want to rush and get the wrong answer."

Net-metering policies across the U.S. vary, but they generally allow homeowners with solar panels on their roofs, once they have met their own needs, to get credit from utility companies for energy they put into the grid to be sold to other customers. Many homeowners with rooftop solar still must buy energy from their utility companies, and they also pay service and other charges. When homeowners have surpluses, the credit they get usually goes toward their overall energy bill.

Minneapolis-based Xcel, which has 1.3 million residential and commercial electric and gas customers in Colorado, says net-metering customers receive a 10.5-cent credit for each kilowatt hour they put on the grid, but the company values the benefit to the grid at only 5 cents a kilowatt hour. The solar industry has challenged Xcel's figures.

Xcel is not calling for changes immediately, saying it first wants to make clear to consumers what part of the net-metering credit reflects the value of the energy produced and what part should be seen as a subsidy. When it first raised the issue earlier this year, Xcel said that if regulators do not agree to that accounting, it would ask to drastically reduce the amount of solar energy it took on from rooftop producers this year.

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