In 2014, the role of utilities in the future of the solar industry became an even hotter topic of discussion, and 2015 promises much more of the same. Growth in solar generation across the country is giving utilities the occasion to do some New Year’s soul-searching over whether this new paradigm of power generation will help or hurt their business in the long term. Meanwhile, the solar industry will spend at least as much time wondering if the utilities are a necessary ally or a mortal threat. And state Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) – the regulators responsible for setting the rules of engagement between them – will be responsible for channeling this tension to serve the public (and hopefully, planetary) interest.
This tension was illustrated in December by two seemingly opposite pieces of news, in two different states, concerning the efforts of one very big utility to work out its solar destiny. Xcel Energy, which has 3.5 million electricity customers across eight mostly mid-western states, has long been the leading generator of wind power among U.S. utilities, and is trying to catch up on the solar side. As part of this effort, Xcel has announced the opening of a new round of its successful Solar Rewards Community program in Minnesota, which allows individuals that lack the ability to install solar panels on their roof to instead “subscribe” to energy produced by a shared, off-site solar array built by an independent third-party developer.
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