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Can the Little People (ie, US) Beat Xcel Energy in Boulder? These People Say YES

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Xcel Energy, the people who started up the Colorado solar-to-home movement only to withdraw from it quicker than John Wayne Bobbitt lost his wang, are back at the douchebaggery again.  This time, a group of very smart and very environmentally conscious people called New Era Colorado is putting the kibosh on their plans for coal-fired world domination.  Check this out:

From the video page:

This is a grassroots David and Goliath campaign to create a landmark model for how communities can take control of their energy future: http://igg.me/at/localpowerYou can support this effort on Indiegogo:http://igg.me/at/localpower

This is pretty great.  These folks are simply trying to stop the mass amounts of money from flowing into the pockets of the “we don’t give a shit” power brokers and back into the hands of the community, and to save the Earth one city at a time.  Can you imagine what would happen if this works?  I for one would love to see solar panels and wind turbines out en masse instead of coal fired plants spewing black death into the atmosphere.  But, that’s just me.  I’m sure the Xcel Energy executives need their Mercedes and homes in the Hamptons, too.  Right?

Check out the Campaign for Local Power’s IndieGogo campaign.  Feeling frisky?  Donate ten bucks, you’ll literally change the world.

From the IndieGogo campaign website:

Back in 2011, our community did something no other community had ever done before: we voted to explore taking control of our power supply for the sole purpose of lowering our impact on the planet. Xcel Energy spent nearly $1 million dollars on that election, but lost–because a committed group of community advocates and a small nonprofit that engages young people in politics won the day. Outspent 10-to-1, the grassroots coalition registered voters, knocked on doors, and made thousands of phone calls.

With voter approval, the city launched an extensive analysis and found that it could get cleaner, cheaper power that was just as reliable all on its own.

But now, Xcel is back, with a misleading initiative they’ve helped place on Boulder’s fall ballot that would stop the city’s formation of a local electric utility dead in its tracks. Their ballot measure is masquerading as a way to reduce government debt, but it’s really just a dirty trick–the measure includes impossible, even illegal, requirements that would stall out the very process voters already approved.

They’re back to undermine our local process, because the city’s findings made it clear that they stand to lose more than the $35 million dollars in profits they make annually from Boulder. They know that Boulder is on the verge of setting a precedent of national significance that would threaten not just Xcel, but the very core of the coal energy’s business model–not to mention that industry’s billions of dollars in profits.

We out-organized them in 2011, and we know we can again in 2013 if we have the resources to achieve the reach we need. Boulder has already voted to move forward–this fight is about keeping the coal industry from holding us back.

Can you help these smart people defeat the coal giant in the region?  Like New Era Colorado on Facebook, I’m sure they’d appreciate it.  Xcel Energy will not.

From the WTF File: Xcel Energy Drops Out of Colorado’s Solar Market

In a move that is less than popular, energy company Xcel Energy has pulled its support out of the Colorado solar energy market.  You might remember Xcel Energy from a story I wrote back in 2009 about how Xcel Energy was charging solar customers who were using their solar panels to make electricity but not drawing power from the power grid.  I thought that was kind of a pretty rude move.

This one is yet another unpopular decision by Xcel Energy.  I find it kind of hilarious that their catch phrase is “Responsible by Nature.”

So back in 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 37 – the amendment says that by 2015, Colorado’s energy market will have 10% of the total contribution be from renewable energy sources.  At the time in 2004, 95% of the energy coming to the grid was from fossil fuels (coal and gas), and only 2% was from renewable energy sources.  From an article at Inhabitat:

Ammendment 37 was passed by Colorado voters in 2004 and required that public utility companies set aside money for a renewable energy portfolio. A small percentage of that power needed to be installed on consumer roofs where demand was great. Many companies opened shop or grew as the price of solar was cut nearly in half. As prices for solar equipment fell, and Xcel Energy met Ammedments 37′s requirements, they have gradually been able to lower the rebate amount to balance the total cost, while still maintaining a predictable pricing scheme for customers. The rebate money comes from a 2% charge on rate payer bills.

Hmm.  So what exactly does the pulling out of Xcel Energy have to do with Colorado and its future?  Well, tons, actually.  Job losses are expected to be about half of the total renewable energy jobs in Colorado, which is about on par with the entire number of fossil fuel gigs in the state.  Again, from Inhabitat:

While the solar industry was relying on a stepped approach for reducing the rebates, their sudden elimination has put nearly every planned residential and commercial project on hold. Being a capital heavy industry many solar company’s cash flow will be severely restricted, limiting opportunities for distributed generation.

One such project that was finalized the day of the announcement puts solar panels on the Denver Rescue Mission by the nonprofit Atmosphere Conservancy in order to help them reduce energy costs. Executive Director Alex Blackmer said that three solar projects the Atmosphere Conservancy finalized would have to be renegotiated and may not go forward after the announcement. Hundreds of  halted projects  will result in real job losses for a workforce that today totals more than 5,300 people and growing. Early estimates reveal that half of these jobs will be gone – more than the total number of jobs in the coal industry in the state.

Energy companies across the world: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  One of these days soon, the population of the world is going to get its collective head together and bring you to task for this kind of bullsh*t.  It’s time for one of these corporations to stand up and man up in order to change our future.  Profits are just profits – you all already have more money than you can possibly spend in your lifetimes – how about helping the rest of us by changing the future of the planet Earth?

Where exactly is the disconnect here, Big Oil and Coal companies?  Don’t you realize that if you switched to renewable energy sources to push on the market that you would make unbelievable amounts of money that won’t run out?  Even my neighbor’s five year old daughter realizes this fact.

Perhaps we need to let companies like Xcel Energy know how displeased we are with their decisions.  After all, a corporation by definition has rights and privvies like US citizens do.  If we made poor decisions publicly, people would call us on them, or we go to jail.  If you are affected by this decision or if you want to let Xcel Energy know how it’s doing, you should send the company an email at inquire@xcelenergy.com.

Denver Utility Company Wants to Charge Solar Consumers A Fee for NOT Using Their Power

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Hey, guess what?  A utility company in Colorado is going to charge a fee to people using solar panels and not using their electricity.  Doesn’t that just defeat the point?  Do you think their own profits might be superceding what’s good for the rest of the country?

Of course they are.  God forbid someone would actually try to do something that wasn’t putting money in the pockets of the power barons, and maybe save the Earth or something.

Denver, Colorado-based Xcel Energy wants to charge a fee to solar power customers who are, well, not using their electricity by generating their own electricity.  Xcel Energy wants customers using their solar panels to pay extra regardless of whether or not they used a drop of Xcel energy each month.  Fortunately, Xcel isn’t putting this fee into place until April 2010, and people who got Xcel PVs before then wouldn’t have to pay the fee.  The Public Utilities Commision still needs to vote on this, and they’ll do so on August 5.

In short, this means that if you try to take charge of your own electricity use by generating some power with Xcel’s solar panels, you’re gonna be penalized by Xcel for doing exactly what you tried to prevent in the first place.  This also means that it might be time to choose someone else’s solar panel service or find another way to purchase some photovoltaic installation action.  It’s time to stop being screwed by companies that think you’re so stupid that they can charge ridiculous fees and you’ll just blindly pay them.

A guy named Tom Henley at Xcel told 7 News that this fee is a preventative measure so that solar customers don’t get a “free ride” down the line.  What?  Wait, what?  A free ride?  Oh, but it gets even more awesome.  From the article that Christian Ayers wrote for The Denver Channel:

Henley also called the absence of a connectivity fee for solar customers a “double subsidy” because many solar customers receive rebates to install the panels. Amendment 37, passed in 2004, requires that a maximum of 2 percent of all Xcel customers’ bills go toward funding the Solar Reward program, which provides rebates for solar installation. Henley said since 2006, the program has given more than $86 million in rebates. The federal government provides tax credits for installing solar panels.

Xcel, I just puked in my mouth a little because of that.  You guys need to get your heads out of your collective asses.  What on Earth is wrong with you?

XCel Energy to Implement “Smart Grid” in Boulder, CO

I was driving back from getting coffee this morning and I heard an NPR story about how Boulder, Colorado will become the first city to have a “Smart Grid” implemented with XCel Energy.  Essentially, the “experiment” will install a few thousand “smart meters” in homes in Boulder, along with dynamic technology that helps with real-time monitoring of power usage for both consumers and regulators.  The Smart Grid plan also tries to integrate the plug-in hybrid vehicle technology and use the vehicle-to-grid principle – along with a few other benefits.  From the XCel Energy press release:

Smart Grid City could feature a number of infrastructure upgrades and customer offerings – for the first time fully integrated through the partnership’s efforts in Boulder – including:

· Transformation of existing metering infrastructure to a robust, dynamic electric system communications network, providing real-time, high-speed, two-way communication throughout the distribution grid;
· Conversion of substations to “smart” substations capable of remote monitoring, near real-time data and optimized performance;
· At the customer’s invitation, installation of programmable in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use; and
· Integration of infrastructure to support easily dispatched distributed generation technologies (such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with vehicle-to-grid technology; battery systems; wind turbines; and solar panels).

The potential benefits of the Smart Grid City include operational savings, customer-choice energy management, better grid reliability, greater energy efficiency and conservation options, increased use of renewable energy sources, and support for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and intelligent-home appliances.

Writer’s note:

I think this is great on many levels, and I have questions about it on a few levels – let me get the questions out of the way first.  The biggest issue I have is why did XCel Energy choose a place that is already so conscious as to its environmental footprint to implement a system that could change the way we distribute power in the United States?  Doesn’t it seem like it’s almost too easy to make the results count here?  One would think that implementing a system like this in a place like Detroit or maybe a south side Chicago suburb might be more of a challenge, especially in an economy like the one we find ourselves with right now.  If a company like XCel Energy could challenge themselves with a project like this one (100 million bucks is the estimate I heard and read) in a lower-income and consciousness town, then going into Boulder where people already know how they impact the planet and installing a Smart Grid would be cake.  This is my opinion.  I also very highly respect the choice to implement this at all, period.

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Another advantage of a Smart Grid system could be the monitoring and conpensation of equipment that is approaching critical failure in order to reduce down times for end users.  Downtime is a pain in the butt, obviously – it can be even worse when the whole system goes down.  If we had a system of devices in place that could monitor failures and perhaps even predict failures based on real-time data, a lot of outages could be made smaller in time length or magnitude.

Along with a Smart Grid system of electronics, metering, and equipment that gives us real-time information and helps us be more self-limiting on our power consumption, we need to also work on existing power infrastructure.  My wife and I lived in Oklahoma City, OK for a year, and we lived through two very bad power situations in the same month – the week-long power outage due to ice and a storm that took out about 450,000 customers in OKC, and a main line failure that caused the power line to our house to explode on New Years’ Eve, 2007.  The ice storm was due to power lines being taken out by trees falling onto power lines, which illustrates another issue that a Smart Grid system would need to overcome – infrastructure.  Power lines out here in Colorado get buried because of these kinds of storms.  If we could solve infrastructure issues at the same time that we are developing new technologies for a Smart Grid system, we could have EPIC WIN, as it were.  The smart monitoring system could have helped the restoration of power in a situation like a bad ice storm as well – when we had our power restored after 5 days of outage, we were only given one of the three phases we had coming to our home, so we had a lot of dim lamps and potential for electronics failure.  It just goes to show that a Smart Grid system is going to be a major overhaul of a project.

One of the best goals we can have is to have a system of goals on how to approach a Smart Grid city system of power distribution.  XCel Energy has a small list in their white paper on Smart Cities on what characteristics the system could have:

An ideal location for Smart Grid City would be one that:

  • Is operationally well defined and located in a geographically concentrated area (Geographic isolation is preferred; however, not required)
  • Contains, or has easy access to, components necessary to implement and validate the Smart Grid concept
  • Is a medium-sized metropolitan area (Approximately 50,000 customers)
  • Offers “friendly” regulatory and political support
  • Is visible, somewhat recognized, community (Neither obscure or remote)
  • Is home to environmentally conscious consumers (Open to PHEVs, alternative sources of energy, and variations of energy usage)
  • Provides optimal economic development, political, public relations and branding opportunities
  • Remains open to opportunities to provide new services to the city. (Examples include: customers energy use and carbon foot print information, reliability information on specific city facilities, traffic lights, city buildings, and other high priority customers. Ability for cities to set priorities for power restoration and ability for city to see power restoration progress)
  • Offers regulatory and political incentives for change (Tariffs, return, etc.)

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Check out the video below for a small expose on Boulder’s Smart Grid system.  Also, please post your opinions in the comments – I love your comments!

Thanks, XCel Energy, ABC News, Grist, and AutoBlogGreen!