Colorado regulators order Xcel Energy to file fees for solar hookups

State regulators have ordered Xcel Energy-Colorado to file fees and timelines for connecting residential and business solar systems to the electric grid. The order comes more than a year after regulators approved rules requiring utilities to submit the fees and after a deluge of complaints about delays by Xcel.

Xcel Energy’s handling of applications from property owners and solar installers has come under scrutiny after complaints that waits for service stretched into several months. For the last several months, solar companies and customers said they faced long delays and few answers after investing in equipment and work.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission issued the order Feb. 28 and gave Xcel 45 days to file the fees and timelines along with provisions for customer refunds if deadlines aren’t met.

In a February PUC meeting, commission member Megan Gilman said the order would provide a path forward on addressing the “unprecedented number of complaints” about Xcel’s action on connecting solar systems.

“It’s clear there needs to be more structure, there needs to be tighter oversight and there needs to be financial incentives and penalties at play here because this is just plain not going well as it currently is,” Gilman said.

Xcel Energy is an outlier in terms of the number of complaints about delays and the process overall, said Ron Davis, a PUC staffer. He said Black Hills Energy, which, like Xcel, is an investor-owned utility, filed its fees and information about hooking up smaller solar projects after the PUC approved the requirements to do so in July 2021.

“To my knowledge, Xcel has no interconnection tariff on file with the commission,” Davis said.

Xcel Energy has received input on proposed fees in anticipation of the filing of fees, company spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said in an email. The previously approved rules didn’t include a deadline. she said.

“Rooftop solar is a customer option that plays a meaningful role in reducing carbon emissions in Colorado, and we’ve been a strong partner. We’ve safely connected more than 85,000 customer solar systems to our grid in Colorado,” Aguayo said.

Xcel Energy acknowledged having a backlog of more than 4,000 interconnection applications in January. The company attributed holdups to a flurry of applications in 2022 due to increased federal and state tax incentives. It also blamed delays on incomplete or inaccurate applications.

Aguayo said Xcel has cleared more than 90% of the backlog and expects to eliminate it early this month.

State regulations require that a portion of the electricity sold by investor-owned utilities comes from renewable energy sources. The requirements include making room on the system for a certain amount of distributed generation, such as solar panels on homes or businesses and community solar gardens.

Mike Kruger, president and CEO of the trade group Colorado Solar and Storage Association, said several solar installers have said they are seeing more applications approved.

“We’ll need to see their official proof, but I believe they have the backlog back to a minimal amount and, fingers crossed, we’ll not see it go back up once the spotlight is off them,” Kruger said.

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