Neal Lurie, executive director for the Colorado Solar EnergyIndustries Association, addressed the crowd of a few hundred on thesteps of the Capitol at noon.
“If Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy cannot create a stable marketplace, then we need a third party, independent administrator to makesure they can,” said Lurie. “They are on notice. They have to get astable marketplace now.”
A few months ago, Black Hills Energy, a large utility provider in Southern Colorado, altogether cut its solar rebate program.
Demonstrators held banners, signs, and wore thick coats as the event went on. The temperature hovered around 20 degrees.
“None of us wanted to be here today, but we knew we had to come downand let our community know of the devastating impact,” said Jim Burness, CEO of SolSource, a Colorado-based solar installation firm. “We builtthis industry from almost nothing in 2000 to almost 5,000 workers today, and Xcel shut the entire industry down overnight.”
Burness said that there is a conflict of interest surrounding Xcel’s ability to oversee the state incentives.
“Xcel has proven they are not a trustworthy partner in this new energy economy whatsoever,” he said.
Xcel has said that the choice to reduce the rebate was in line withthe cost of solar. In order to keep the solar industry healthy and guide it toward self-sufficiency, the rebate must be reduced as costs godown, slowing removing the rebate as the industry becomes healthy enough to compensate.
But Burness questioned that logic.
“How do they know what are costs are?” he said. “I didn’t get a call from them.”
He said that fossil fuels currently get 12 times the subsidies ofclean energy. According to an August study by Bloomberg New EnergyFinance, that number worldwide is about 10 times.
“All we want is Xcel to stick to what they promised and keep the plan they had in place instead of pulling the rug out from underneath us,”said Burness. “What Xcel has done is a slap in the face of Coloradovoters. Even worse, it will create a lot of pain for the Coloradoeconomy in a time when we need more local jobs, not fewer.”
Lurie looked beyond the installers and industry leaders in the crowd as well.
“This doesn’t only affect people working in the industry today,” hesaid. “It also affects thousands of students who are looking at whattheir future is going to look like.”
One of those students is Scot Wooley, a Colorado native who is the president of the University of Colorado’s energy club.
“I want a green job; I want to push this industry forward,” he said.
The CU energy club, according to Wooley, now has 1500 members. He said that number is encouraging.
“This explosive growth indicates to me that there are a lot morestudents in this country, in this state and around the world, who want a job in the clean-energy economy that Colorado has become famous for,”he said. “Colorado already has a leadership platform. We’re alreadyahead of the game, and we’re pushing the limits of innovation, but right now this innovation is being threatened.”
For some, Xcel’s lowered rebate means fewer job opportunities as solar installers scale down operations in order to remain profitable. But all hope is not lost for Wooley.
“As a student who feels threatened right now, as someone who wants aclean energy job, I’m reassured by all the smiling faces I see in thecrowd,” he said. “But it’s not over. We need to standshoulder-to-shoulder and fight for our clean energy future, so let’s doit.”
One unexpected speaker at the event was Colorado Representative Joe Miklosi (D – Denver), who, assumedly, heard the commotion and asked to speak.
“I want to make this state the renewable-energy capital of thecountry,” said Rep. Miklosi. “The recent actions by Xcel have taken usin a very different direction. They need to be a partner, not anobstacle to what we want to do with this economy.”
Rep. Miklosi told the crowd about an unnamed solar executive in hisdistrict who was about to expand and hire for three new positions, butdecided against it after the news of Xcel’s reduction hit.
“That upsets me, and that’s wrong,” he said. “I’m going to doeverything I can to influence the PUC [Public Utilities Commission] tomake sure they reject the Xcel proposal.”
Lurie told everyone in the crowd to contact the PUC and their representatives and ask them to do the same.
And with that, the crowd dispersed, dragging their signs, many of them reading “Xcel killed my green job.”
Approximately three blocks away is the unemployment office.
And before the protesters had even left the stairs of the Capitol,the line of Coloradoans requesting unemployment benefits was alreadythreatening to wrap around the next block.
Photos: Theo Romeo / CleanEnergyAuthority