• Xcel Energy Inc. says it has has reached a sweeping settlement agreement on renewable energy and pricing that could change the way electricity is produced and paid for in Colorado — if state regulators sign off on it.

    The settlement covers three proposals the power utility has submitted to state regulators: One to change its customer rate structure, another to create a community solar program, and a third to add more renewable energy to its portfolio.

    The agreement, filed Monday with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, involves 22 of the 26 groups that are parties to one or more of those efforts, which Minneapolis-based Xcel (NYSE: XEL) is pushing in the state as part of its “Our Energy Future” plan. After months of negotiations, the 22 entities agreed either to the entire settlement or to pieces of it.

    “The agreement will benefit Xcel Energy’s Colorado customers by allowing us to move forward with the ‘Our Energy Future’ initiative,” said Alice Jackson, Xcel’s regional vice president for rates and regulatory affairs.

    “It will allow us to meet our customers’ expectations by giving them more control over their energy choices. It will bring more renewable and carbon-free energy to Colorado through the use of new technologies, and it will be provide affordable and reliable energy to further power the state’s economy,” Jackson said.

    Solar-power interests hailed the agreement.

    “The solar industry will create more jobs and produce more affordable clean energy because we have settled these issues,’’ said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group for the solar power industry in Colorado.

    The parties to the settlement includes some of the state’s biggest cities, its biggest electricity users and major environmental advocacy groups.

    They include the cities of Denver and Boulder; CF&I Steel L.P., which operates a Pueblo steel mill;limax Molybdenum Co., which operates the Henderson Mine in Clear Creek County; the state and national solar power trade groups; and Western Resource Advocates, an environmental advocacy group that focuses on policy issues.

    Also signing on to the agreement are the Colorado PUC’s own staff; the Office of Consumer Counsel, the state agency that represents residential consumers before the PUC; and NextEra Energy Resources LLC, the world’s largest wind and solar power generator.

    It does not cover Xcel’s separate proposal to buy and install about $500 million worth of sophisticated electricity meters, which can collect and provide more information about when and how much electricity is used throughout a day.

    Among the elements of the agreement:

    • Xcel will drop its controversial proposal to create a new monthly fee for customers who generate solar power to access its electricity grid, something that supporters of renewable energy had denounced as imposing a financial obstacle for homeowners considering whether to add solar power panels to their rooftops.
    • Xcel will offer two “time of use” test programs to customers, in which energy prices would be higher at peak times and lower when demand is lower. Up to 20,000 customers could participate in 2017, and up to 48,000 customers could participate in 2019, Xcel said in.
    • Xcel will start crafting standards for connecting big batteries, which can store energy for a home or business, to its grid system.
    • Xcel will add 50 megawatts worth of solar power, both rooftop solar and larger commercial-scale solar gardens, to its original proposal, allowing for up to 342 megawatts worth of solar power be added to its Colorado portfolio between 2017 and 2019.
    • Xcel could give customers the option to pay a premium on their monthly bills to support solar power supplies through a new program called “Renewable*Connect,” similar to Xcel’s existing Windsource program.
    • On Windsource, Xcel will reduce its premium price from $2.16 per block of 100 kilowatt-hours to $1.50 per block, and consider rolling Windsource into the “Renewable*Connect” program.
    • In an effort to make solar more accessible to low-income customers, Xcel will work with the Colorado Energy Office to develop a rooftop solar program aimed at low-income consumers and will reserve a portion of Xcel’s own solar garden projects for low-income customers.

    The agreement also will change the rates that solar power customers pay under the existing “net metering system” so that rates are higher during times of peak demand and lower during off-peak times, said Gwen Farnsworth, an energy policy advisor with Western Resource Advocates, based in Boulder.

    “We hope this agreement among diverse interests encourages stakeholders in other states to look for creative, collaborative solutions that advance clean affordable energy for everyone. Good rate design and clean energy innovation can balance multiple interests. We look forward to presenting the agreement to the PUC for their consideration,” Farnsworth said.

    Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at the national Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), hailed the agreement, calling it a “massive undertaking, and Xcel Energy should be praised for their leadership.”

    “This settlement expands solar access to low-income customers. It significantly increases the state’s capacity for clean, reliable, affordable solar energy, including more than doubling the solar capacity for commercial and industrial customers through the Solar*Rewards program. Without a doubt, this will support more well-paying solar jobs in the state,” Gallagher said.

    Cathy Proctor covers energy, the environment and transportation for the Denver Business Journal and edits the weekly “Energy Inc.” newsletter. Phone: 303-803-9233. Subscribe to the Energy Inc. newsletter



    Posted by Dana West @ 4:30 pm for Colorado politics, Energy |

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