Xcel Energy is a major U.S. electric and natural gas company, with annual revenues of $10.1 billion. Based in Minneapolis, Minn., the company operates in 8 states and provides a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to 3.4 million electricity customers and 1.9 million natural gas customers. 

In Colorado—one of those 8 states of operation for Xcel—the company built an interesting Solar Rewards Community program. We spoke with Susannah Pedigo, manager of renewable energy products and services about the program’s history and its connections (especially with the grid).

 

Intelligent Utility: What's the scope and history of the Solar Rewards Community program?

Pedigo: The Solar*Rewards Community program was created in response to the State of Colorado's legislation (House Bill 10-1342), passed in 2010, to provide for community solar gardens. Xcel supported the legislation and the Solar*Rewards Community program developed through collaborative workshops with the solar industry and the PUC. These workshops informed the Rulemaking in Docket No. R10-674E.  In 2012, the company opened the program and garden developers could participate by way of the standard offer program (first-come, first-serve) making available a total of 4.5 MW for which a solar garden developer could apply for a garden sized up to 500 kW. The company also offered an RFP solicitation for gardens sized 501 kW to 2 MW in size.  The company would take up to 4.5 MW.  We are repeating these offerings again in 2013 for a total of 18 MW of gardens to be developed in our Colorado service territory.  

 

Intelligent Utility: How would you categorize the project so far?

Pedigo: In 2012 and 2013, the standard offer program has been very successful. For the standard offer program segment, we received 13 MW worth of applications in 2012 and 19 MW in 2013 in less than 30 minutes of the program opening. Over 90 percent of the applications were for 500 kW systems. We have had over 10 different developers apply for the program. 

Through the 2012 RFP, we received 11 bids from 5 different developers. The 2013 RFP was issued on August 1, 2013 and bids in response are due September 3, 2013.  There is one solar garden (about 500 kW) by Clean Energy Collective that is complete and operating in Boulder County in April 2013.  

2012 application status (standard offer & RFP projects)
  • Mesa Solar 1, LLC (500 kW) in Boulder County, completed in May 2013 (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Summit Solar 1, LLC (500 kW) in Summit County, in contract stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Breck Solar 1, LLC (#4) (400 kW) in Denver County, in contract stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Breck Solar 1, LLC (#1) (500 kW) in Summit County, in contract stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Aurora Solar Garden 1 (497 kW) in Arapahoe County, in contract stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Community Energy Solar (2 @ 499 kW each) in Boulder County, in contract stage
  • Candelas Garden (571 kW) in Jefferson County, in engineering stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Sterling CSG (1997 kW) in Logan County, in engineering stage
  • Clifton CSG (1997 kW) in Mesa County, in engineering stage
  • GC Solar 2, LLC (500 kW) in Denver County, in pre-engineering stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Breck Solar 1, LLC (#5) (108 kW) in Jefferson County, in pre-engineering stage (a Clean Energy Collective facility)
  • Saguache Solar Garden 1 (497 kW) in Saguache County, in pre-engineering stage

 

Intelligent Utility: What benefits do you expect from this program?

Pedigo: Solar gardens provide our customers more renewable energy choices and are a great alternative for those that cannot or choose not to install a rooftop solar system.

 

Intelligent Utility: What lessons has this program taught you?

Pedigo: This is a new enough program that we are still learning many things.  Only one garden is energized from the program so far.  We work closely with each solar garden developer to aid in efficient design review and construction progress.  It is important that projects are located on sites that are unencumbered for 20 years minimum.  Also, with feedback from developers we developed a policy to give them 18 months to construct the garden due to typical design and construction timeframes, e.g. approval processes.

 

Intelligent Utility: How does this program fit into Xcel Energy's smart grid/future grid planning?

Pedigo: The solar gardens that are proposed in our program are typically 500 kW or larger in size.  They have the potential to put a lot of generation on our distribution system.  For this reason, our engineers are very involved in the design review and stay involved through construction to make sure the garden is safely interconnected to our electric grid.

 

Intelligent Utility: How are the gardens tied back into the grid? Into your billing system?

Pedigo: Solar gardens are interconnected the same way other large PV systems are. They developer submits a design that the company’s engineering group reviews and approves to ensure safe interconnection.  A lot of coordination is involved between the developer and the company during the design phase.  Additionally, if any distribution system upgrades are warranted, the company’s engineering department coordinates that with the developer as well.

The Solar*Rewards Community program uses a specially designed application system that allows the solar garden developer to input all the project design parameters, application and garden subscriber details, and application fees for review.  Also, the system “talks” to our billing system.  Developers can manage the garden subscribers, e.g., update subscriber information through the same system on a continual basis.

 

Intelligent Utility: What advice would you give other utilities looking to start a similar program?

Pedigo: Solar gardens provide customers more renewable energy choices. If you are developing a community solar program, it’s important to engage with all stakeholders to understand the level of interest for this type of program.  Also, consider developing an application environment that streamlines the initial application process and that also makes managing subscriptions in the garden easy over the long-term.

From the utility perspective, it is important to engage your engineering and distribution experts who will review these projects for interconnection. Work out a workflow process that makes design review simpler and smoother.