Holy Cross Energy board delays start of new, two-tier rate system until Jan. 1 | VailDaily.com

Holy Cross Energy board delays start of new, two-tier rate system until Jan. 1

The Colorado Energy Office asked for the delay

The current and future proliferation of rooftop solar energy panels prompted Holy Cross Energy to propose a new rate structure. The utility's elected board on Wednesday, May 24, delayed the start of that rate structure.
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The Holy Cross Energy Board of Directors has delayed until at least Jan. 1 a plan that would change the utility’s rate structure — a proposal that drew opposition from the state’s solar energy industry.

The vote came May 24, after the utility received a request from the Colorado Energy Office and Gov. Jared Polis. A release from the utility said state officials made the request to allow time for state officials to “convene a dialogue on the future of ‘net metering’ policy in Colorado”

The proposed changes included splitting utility bills into two parts: a new delivery charge intended to recover the costs of operating the utility’s electric grid, and a reduced energy charge reflecting only the costs of energy being delivered to the grid.

Besides the request from the state, a Holy Cross press release noted that the utility had received more than 300 written comments on the proposal. In addition, about 135 customers provided in-person and virtual comments at the board’s May 24 meeting.

A number of comments probably came thanks to a public outreach effort on the part of the state’s solar energy industry.

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The Colorado Storage & Solar Association, the state’s industry group, has a banner atop its home page directing people to a page encouraging the repeal of the rate proposal.

Rich Clubine, owner of Avon-based Active Energies, sent customers hundreds of emails encouraging them to challenge the proposal.

Potentially damaging changes

In a Thursday interview, Clubine said he’s encouraged by the move, but the potential changes are still out there, and those changes will damage both his business and current owners of solar energy systems.

Clubine said the Board was just “kicking the can down the road” with its Wednesday decision.

Clubine said while the decision was a “positive result” for the industry, “it still leaves everybody who wants to do solar or has solar, in limbo. Now we’re waiting another seven months.”

In April, Holy Cross CEO Bryan Hannegan said a new rate structure is needed to ensure that the utility can meet its future operating costs. As building projects in Eagle and Pitkin counties add more rooftop solar panels, “It’s not too obvious (customers) will always be buying energy from us,’ Hannegan said.

But those in the solar energy industry maintain that the new rate structure is a solution in search of a problem, or is a policy that’s years premature.

Clubine said the proposed rate structure is a bad design, and could have a negative impact on working families.

Colorado Solar & Storage Association Director Mike Kruger attended the May 24 meeting and was encouraged by what he saw, from both the board and the public.

Kruger said the board’s decision “makes a lot of sense … they knew they needed to hear from more folks.”

Kruger noted that the Holy Cross rate proposal could have statewide ramifications. That’s why Polis got involved.

“Anytime you take a local rate restructure and it becomes a statewide thing, the number of voices will increase dramatically,” Kruger said.

Getting ahead of a problem

Kruger said Polis has been a “longtime supporter” of rooftop solar panels. With a controversy looming, Kruger guessed that Polis and his office want to get ahead of those potential problems.

One of those potential problems is the negative effects on household budgets from charging more during peak periods

Clubine noted that a person at Wednesday’s meeting is a teacher in the Roaring Fork Valley. A proposed peak demand charge — in which electricity costs more between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. — would cost that working family more, since that’s when people are online, watching TV, or running laundry machines.

Clubine noted that Xcel Energy several years ago tried an ultimately unsuccessful trial program with demand charges.

“It’s complicated, and people don’t understand (it),” he said.

Clubine said he appreciates Holy Cross’s efforts to think ahead, adding that the utility in many ways is “decades ahead” of other utilities in the state.

“I feel good that the board is slowing down — there’s more room for conversation and discussion,” Clubine said.

That conversation is important for the entire state, Kruger said.

“We don’t want to get this wrong,” he said.

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