Boulder solar energy firm withdraws from Colo., blaming Xcel, PUC
Citing unfair market conditions and blaming Xcel Energy and the Public Utilities Commission for placing “enormous hurdles” on the solar services industry, one Boulder company has elected to altogether bow out of the solar installation business in Colorado.
Lighthouse Solar, the University of Colorado’s primary solar contractor and the company behind the FlatIron Crossing mall’s rooftop panel system — the largest in Colorado, at 1.2 megawatts — contends that the state’s current setup allows Xcel to dominate the solar game while roughly 350 private contractors are forced to jockey for a fraction of the business Xcel gets.
“It is deeply disappointing that the only thing standing between us and the enormous demand for solar energy in our home state is Xcel Energy, a state sanctioned monopoly, and the PUC,” CEO Scott Franklin wrote in a statement.
According to the latest forecast, Xcel will install about 50 megawatts (roughly 250 acres) of solar panels this year. So far in 2014, Lighthouse and its competitors across the state have been able to bid for commercial contracts covering a total of 7 megawatts — the same amount Lighthouse alone installed in 2013, and about one-eighth the amount the company says it could handle annually, given free rein.
“It’s not that there’s no customer demand,” Franklin said in an interview. “The state should be installing hundreds a year. The only limiter in Colorado is Xcel Energy.
“Xcel, fundamentally as a business, has no interest in seeing solar succeed. Their one goal is shareholder profit and return. That’s their mandate. It’s what public companies do.”
Xcel spokesman Gabriel Romero acknowledged that many commercial contractors vying for 7 megawatts makes little sense, but he noted that Xcel is at the mercy of the PUC, which has final say on whether Xcel’s Renewable Energy Standard plan goes through.
Pending PUC approval, Xcel hopes to bid out 36 megawatts in its latest Renewable Energy Standard plan. While the industry waited on that ruling, Xcel secured approval and bid out contracts for 7 megawatts of commercial and another 20 for small-scale installations.
Romero said Lighthouse is the only Colorado solar energy company he’s heard complain about the situation.
“They’re saying we’re blocking things, doing all this stuff, making it difficult,” he said. “That’s just not the case. All we can do is file things with the Utilities Commission, and their job is to look out for the consumers and the best interests of rate payers. Sometimes they approve what we file, and sometimes they don’t.
“I don’t know if (Lighthouse) is privy to how the PUC works, but we have these megawatts proposed and we have filed for them, but we can’t do anything until the PUC says yes or no. It’s a question of, once the plan expires, we can only do so much until the next plan is approved.”
The PUC declined to be interviewed for this story.
Franklin maintains the delay in processing by the PUC works to Xcel’s advantage.
“They get to say, ‘Sorry, we tried,’” he said. “Xcel is installing 50 megawatts this year, for their own wholesale distribution. They’re doing two times what the rest of the industry is. I want them to get out of the way. The problem here is we’ve got the fox running the hen house. They need to be removed as the administrator.”
That all Xcel customers must pay a 2 percent solar surcharge to fund the renewable energy incentives the company doles out is, according to Franklin, further evidence of Xcel feigning an interest in expanding solar technology.
“People think that this whole program is out of the goodness and generosity of Xcel’s heart, and that’s certainly not the case,” he said. “It’s their program? It’s not their program. It’s our dollars.”
Within its Thursday announcement, Lighthouse confirmed it will continue operating out of its installation offices in Austin, Texas, and New Paltz, New York.
Lighthouse’s production branch, a sister company called Lumos Solar, will also remain fully operational.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Alex Burness at 303-473-1389, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/alex_burness.