A state lawmaker is taking action after CBS News Colorado reported on a problem impacting hundreds of solar customers.
They say Xcel Energy and other utilities are dragging their feet on solar hook-ups, which cut into the company’s profits. The Colorado Solar and Storage Association says it’s taking six months or longer in most cases to connect new installations to the grid.
While Xcel blames high demand, saying solar installations were up 34% last year – the delays have been going on for a year.
Paul and June Webster thought their days of paying hundreds of dollars a month for electricity were over when they paid $36,000 to have rooftop solar installed.
“We’ve passed all the inspections. It’s ready to go,” Paul said.
All they’re waiting on is a meter from the company connecting them to the grid. They were told it would take three weeks. It’s now going on for three months.
“I would love to see them fined every month it takes,” June said.
Senator Chris Hansen says, good idea saying, “It’s time to put an end to this practice.”
He’s bringing legislation to hold any utility that drags its feet on solar connections accountable.
“This has been a building backlog that, as your reporting revealed, is more than a year in the making.. and I think there has to be a clear penalty structure in place to make sure customers get what they need,” he said.
It’s not just customers. Mike Kruger, with Colorado Solar and Storage Association, says the delays are costing solar installers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“They laid out all the hardware and teams to install and they don’t get paid until there are electrons flowing to the grid,” he said.
Doug Southard, the owner of Southard’s Solar Energy, says he has customers who’ve been waiting on Xcel since May of last year.
“It’s almost impossible to keep doors open right now,” he said.
He blames the delays in part on a new job portal Xcel Energy created last year that he says has been a disaster.
The company admits it’s backlogged but says it’s a two – not six-month delay and it says, it’s in the process of hiring more people.
Meanwhile, the Websters say their losses are Xcel Energy’s gain.
“It’s to their benefit to drag things out,” says June. “Sooner the better is all I can say,” Paul said.
Hansen agrees, “It’s simply not acceptable.”
He says other states already fined Xcel Energy for delays and it’s time Colorado followed suit.
“90 days maximum, absolute maximum, it really shouldn’t be any more than five to six weeks. That should be the target and, anything longer than that, we should start looking at penalties,” Hansen said.
In addition to penalizing utilities for slow solar connections, Hansen’s bill will also make sure solar credits go up as rates go up.
He says Xcel could have lessened the current rate increase.
A bill that Hansen passed three years ago allows the utility to buy all its natural gas a year in advance to avoid price spikes. Hansen is running for Denver mayor.
The city will negotiate a new contract with Xcel Energy at the end of this year.