For all the ink that Colorado’s public officials have spilled on the subject of the New Energy Economy, there’s been little discussion of its cost.
Ex-Governor Bill Ritter, for example, recently took to the pages of the New York Times to brag about his energy legacy. While he made an unsubstantiated claim about creating “thousands of new jobs,” he ignored the inconvenient truth that Xcel’s rates increased precipitously during his tenure, despite the fact that electricity demand was down due to an economic recession.
To be sure, it’s difficult to isolate an annual cost figure for the New Energy Economy. For starters, there’s a lot of policies to investigate; as ex-Governor Ritter noted in his New York Times op-ed, he enacted a suite of expensive energy policies (57 laws, to be exact). Moreover, utility accounting is arcane and largely opaque. So discerning the sum cost of these disparate measures is not easy, which is why no one has yet calculated the annual cost of the New Energy Economy…until now.
Under Colorado’s Renewable Electricity Standard, investor-owned utilities in Colorado must generate 12 percent of their electricity from renewable energy this year. The requirement was 5 percent last year. By 2020, it is 30 percent.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar cost more than conventional energy sources like coal and gas, but Colorado lawmakers sought to protect ratepayers by limiting the annual retail rate impact of the green energy mandate to 2 percent of a customer’s bill.
Elsewhere, I’ve described how Xcel has avoided the rate impact limit to date. However, the on-going Solar*Rewards imbroglio presents significant new questions about the permeability of the green energy cost controls.
On February 16, Xcel filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reduce its Solar*Rewards payment, a subsidy for on-site solar photovoltaic installations, from $2.35/watt installed electricity generating capacity, to $1.25/watt. The next day, Xcel suspended the program, pending the PUC’s decision on its request.
Last Friday, solar industry supporters descended on the Capitol to protest Xcel’s suspension of solar subsidies. They claim that as many as 3,000 jobs have been jeopardized by the utility’s decision. Tomorrow (Wednesday March 2), the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on the subsidy cut.
Clearly, the Solar*Rewards program is now at the fore of Colorado energy policy. This post is a long, dry primer on the matter.
What’s at Issue: Solar*Rewards
Xcel’s Solar*Rewards program subsidizes “on-site” solar power. It was implemented by Xcel in 2006, in order to help meet the goals set by Amendment 37, a 2004 ballot initiative that established a renewable energy production quota. The quota, known as Renewable Electricity Standard, required investor-owned utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity with renewable energy by 2020. In 2007, the General Assembly enacted, and Governor Bill Ritter signed, HB 1281, which increased the production quota to 20 percent by 2020. And in 2010, the General Assembly enacted, and Governor Bill Ritter signed, HB 1001, which increased the Renewable Electricity Standard to 30 percent by 2020.