Colorado includes solar array into Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income households

Colorado solar array program

Colorado continues the progressive energy initiatives. Thanks to the Colorado Energy Office (CEO), Energy Resource Center (ERC), and Colorado Springs Utilities, the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has been updated to include the installation of a 2-kW rooftop solar array as part of the package. The CEO WAP provides free, cost-effective energy efficiency measures to income-eligible households in all of the state’s 64 counties.

Historically, the WAP has only allowed energy efficiency measures, but the Department of Energy recently authorized CEO to be the first state to integrate rooftop solar into weatherization services. This project with ERC and Colorado Springs Utilities will demonstrate the feasibility of combining energy efficiency measures with rooftop solar offerings to help reduce utility bills for residents most in need — those paying more than 4 percent of household income on energy costs.

RELATED: Progressive rate settlement filed in Colorado – is this the grid model we’ve been looking for? 

“The impact of this project is threefold: it addresses energy burdens by reducing both home heating and electric costs; it enhances opportunities for distributed generation; and it demonstrates the viability of rooftop solar offerings for low-income households,” said Joseph Pereira, Director of Low-Income Energy Services for the Colorado Energy Office. “We appreciate the Department of Energy’s receptiveness to this innovation in the program and the forward-thinking efforts of our partners at Energy Resource Center and Colorado Springs Utilities as we explore the best use of solar to assist those in need.”

CEO partners with eight local agencies throughout the state to provide WAP services including ERC, which serves the counties of Denver, Jefferson, Douglas, Elbert, Teller, El Paso, Fremont, Saguache, Mineral, Rio Grande, Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla. ERC is the first weatherization agency in the state to pilot the installation of rooftop panels as part of its site-specific weatherization services. In addition to rooftop solar panels, the project home will receive insulation, storm windows, low-flow showerheads, LED bulbs and a refrigerator. These integrated measures will save an estimated $600 annually in energy costs.

“This family has struggled to pay high energy bills due to low household income,” said Howard Brooks, Executive Director of Energy Resource Center. “These improvements to their home are a game-changer; it allows the family to be safer, more comfortable, and more able to afford other necessities.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar industry rallies in Colorado to fight Xcel Energy rate proposals

Colorado solar rates Xcel

Will Colorado’s net-metering battle play out like neighboring Nevada?

Xcel Energy, a utility in Colorado, has proposed increasing fixed charges for all customers while reducing charges on energy used. Xcel also plans to introduce demand charges for residential customers, which up until now have only applied to large commercial and industrial customers. Like similar proposals brought about by other utilities in other states, solar industry advocates aren’t thrilled with the concept, as it can read as disincentivizing investment in distributed generation systems by small businesses and residences.

And just like in other states, the usual suspects are rallying to support pro-solar initiatives and fight back against the proposals by Xcel Energy.

“Right now, Colorado is a top 10 state for solar jobs, and people are moving here specifically to work in the solar industry,” saidLauren Randall, Senior Manager of Public Policy for Sunrun. “Xcel’s confusing proposal would stifle that momentum.”

RELATED: Will this NRDC report revive the Nevada rooftop solar industry? 

More than one hundred Colorado solar energy workers, customers, and supporters gathered on the steps last week before the first Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing on Xcel’s proposal to restructure electricity rates.

In recent years, Colorado has positioned itself as a clean energy leader and innovation powerhouse. Last August, after nearly two years of discussions, Governor Hickenlooper’s appointed PUC decided to maintain the state’s solar net metering policy.

Solar supporters worry that Xcel is now looking for “a second bite at the apple” to eliminate rooftop solar competition. When a major utility in Nevada increased charges on solar customers, half a dozen local and national solar companies left the state. In fact, many employees came to Colorado to work in solar after operations were shuttered in Nevada. Coloradans want to prevent a similar outcome here.

“We believe public policies should encourage more distributed solar energy in order to provide customer choice, reduced air pollution and a more resilient electric grid,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We hope the PUC will decide Xcel’s proposals are moving us away from those goals and instead support innovative rate policies.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine