Xcel Energy: Swiftboating for Solar

Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest investor-owned utility, is attacking net metering once again. Rather than pay solar customers full, fair credit for the energy they put back into the grid, the company would undermine the solar market altogether. To protect its profits, the company is claiming solar is bad for the grid, despite having championed the industry in a former life.

Xcel has been trying to cripple Coloradans' energy choices and the state's distributed solar market for years now. In 2011, the energy monopoly poured nearly $1 million into a campaign to stymy the city of Boulder's attempt to municipalize its utility grid - and failed. This past June, Xcel filed a lawsuit to try to block Boulder from implementing its successful municipalization measure. It was not always thus, however. In a simpler, less competitive time, Xcel championed incentive programs.

This press release reveals a window into a time long past, when a clear-eyed young Xcel lauded the benefits of solar net metering to all ratepapers. Xcel once danced hand in hand with the Colorado voter down roads paved with solar panels, eager to comply with the state's renewable energy standard. Xcel's response to critics if net metering would impact non-solar ratepayers: Balderdash. As the Denver Post put it back in 2007:

"Yet Xcel officials maintain that all customers benefit, because solar systems delay the need to build expensive power plants and reduced prospective future taxes on carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power."

This same Xcel currently uses its resources to influence ballots, obfuscates wherever possible to skew data in its favor, and executes on the national utility playbook to stop the growth of rooftop solar. Xcel is helping lead the bandwagon in campaigns against net metering.

So what has Xcel swiftboating on solar? Behind all of the company's actions is a thinly-veiled profit protection plan. When the solar market in Colorado was its alone, Xcel was happy to boast its support for rooftop solar growth. When there was no competition to hold Xcel accountable, it lauded the growth opportunities offered by net metering and the environmental benefits of local energy generation. As the nascent solar leasing industry began to pick up steam, however, Xcel changed its tune.

This is not to say, however, that the company does not still fly its solar flag high.
Lately, it has been sporting a new advertising campaign under the jazzy tagline "Doing Solar Right." Like many other corporations looking to make hay out of the environmental movement, Xcel has been greenwashing with gusto. The new image comes replete with chirpy narration, crisp graphics and opaque accolades. The mercurial utility is hedging. Unwilling to give the free market a chance to decide the best solar model, it would slash net metering credit and take the consumer's choice out of the equation.

Thus far, energy consumers have pushed back against reactionary private utilities and preserved net metering in states across the country. Polling in Colorado shows that 78% of voters support net metering and disapprove of Xcel's roll-back of its own incentives programs. With the deck stacked against them like this, Xcel should keep in mind that the American public has typically been unkind to flip-floppers.