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Solar Users Are Freeloaders, Says Xcel Energy

While countries throughout Europe (and some U.S. states) are actively trying to encourage the use of rooftop solar panels with feed-in tariffs, Colorado utility Xcel Energy has decided to punish residents who want to go solar.

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electric meter

While countries throughout Europe (and some U.S. states) are actively trying to encourage the use of rooftop solar panels with feed-in tariffs, Colorado utility Xcel Energy has decided to punish residents who want to go solar.

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The utility is toying with the idea of charging a fee to all customers who install solar systems after April 2010. While Xcel claims that it will be minimal–$23 annually for a Boulder home with a 4.5 kilowatt solar array–the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association says that super-efficient homes could be charged up to $200 or more.

So why is Xcel discouraging solar power? Officials say that the fee will be used to pay for transmission lines. It’s a charge that’s built into the average customer’s electricity rates, but solar-powered homes use so little power that they don’t pay it. But as Scientific American’s George Musser points out, solar users pay for their own net meters to monitor consumption and generation, pay $6 to $7 per month for meter reading costs, and pay for backup power from the grid. And solar users do utilities a favor by making to easier for them to fulfill demand during peak times and by helping meet federal renewable energy requirements.

Utilities in Maine, Vermont, California, and Florida get this; that’s why they pay solar panel owners above-market rates for their electricity. For a utility that is trying to turn Boulder into the first Smart Grid City, Xcel is doing a good job of making things difficult for forward-thinking customers.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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