Just as the Bonneville Power Administration led the charge on the addition of a wind integration rate, Xcel Energy now seeks to impose a solar connectivity charge on its net-metered customers in Colorado. The proposed monthly fee is intended to pay Xcel for setting aside electricity capacity for solar customers, in case they need to draw energy from the grid. Because this is a capacity-based charge, it would apply even if the net-metered customers do not actually use any of the capacity in a given month. If the fee is approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, Xcel will be the first utility in the U.S. to charge net-metered solar customers for the ability to access the grid when needed.
Tom Henley, a spokesman for Xcel, described the fee as necessary to prevent solar customers from getting a windfall, as they currently do not pay to use the grid as a backup. However, solar energy advocates countered that the proposed fee overlooks the benefits that the net-metered customers provide: namely, generating clean, renewable energy that can be fed into the grid. One net-metered Xcel customer noted that the solar panels on his roof generate enough electricity to power five or six houses around him.
The proposed fee would go into effect in April 2010 and apply to customers who purchase solar panels on or after the effective date. The 2.6 cent per kilowatt-hour fee would be based on the largest amount of electricity per month that a solar customer has extracted from the grid during the last year. Henley estimates that the fee would amount to an additional $1.90 per month for a person adding a 4.5 kilowatt solar array to his or her home.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is holding a public hearing on the proposed rate increase on August 5th.