Xcel Energy, a natural gas and electricity utility serving 1.3 million electric and 1.2 million natural gas customers in Colorado, reached a proposed settlement agreement this month regarding its 2022-2025 Renewable Energy Plan (“2022-25 RE Plan”). The 2022-25 RE Plan is Xcel’s four-year roadmap to expand renewable energy in Colorado. Joining Xcel in the settlement agreement is an Environmental Justice Coalition, along with several other nonprofits and state agencies. The Environmental Justice Coalition consists of Vote Solar, GRID Alternatives, Cultivando, Colorado Latino Forum, GreenLatinos, Womxn from the Mountain, NAACP Denver, and Mothers Out Front — and is represented by Earthjustice.
“Xcel’s commitment to income-qualified and disproportionately impacted communities is a big deal for the state’s clean and equitable energy future,” said Juan Roberto Madrid, Colorado clean transportation & energy policy advocate at GreenLatinos. “Low income and community solar has a major role to play in an equitable energy transition, and it’s incredibly exciting to see Xcel recognize that.”
Throughout this case, the Environmental Justice Coalition called for more equitable access to rooftop solar, community solar, and battery storage. In the settlement agreement, Xcel agreed to several meaningful clean energy and environmental justice commitments, including dedicating $32.8 million total towards renewable energy programs and incentives for income-qualified customers and disproportionately impacted communities. Dedicated spending for these customers will promote equitable implementation of the RE Plan by ensuring lower costs for solar installation, expanded access to community solar, and proper community engagement and education.
“The RE Plan settlement invests significantly in program access for income qualified and disproportionately impacted communities in Colorado and starts to level the playing field to ensure broad and robust access to the benefits of renewable energy and energy storage in our state,” said Tom Figel, senior director of policy and business development with GRID Alternatives. “The settlement agreement is testament to how important and effective community engagement can be; engagement that will only increase in importance as we now turn our attention to making sure that these programs achieve the equitable clean energy future Colorado needs.”
The settlement also earmarks $6.5 million for energy storage (supporting approximately 10 MW total of battery storage) over the four years of the RE Plan. This plan also develops a new program with $1.6 million specifically dedicated to providing larger incentives to low income and historically disadvantaged communities. Community solar projects are also estimated to receive up to $52.6 million from the settlement. Further, the settlement will invest $250,000 annually for workforce training and development.
For Xcel customers to better understand the incentives and programs, the company intends to spend $4.75 million of flexible budget for community engagement and outreach and programs. Xcel has committed to work with environmental justice nonprofits to conduct culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach to income-qualified customers and disproportionately impacted communities, education including youth education, and community-based organizations, and other program implementation partnerships to address program implementation barriers. Finally, the utility has agreed to use the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s mapping tool, EnviroScreen to identify disproportionately impacted communities in their program proposals.
“We are encouraged by Xcel Energy’s agreement. By modifying its renewable energy plan to better serve Coloradan families, Xcel demonstrated its commitment to working with the people and communities they serve,” said Claudine Custodio, senior regulatory manager, Interior West at Vote Solar. “This decision is vital to protect environmental justice communities who often bear the brunt of climate change while lacking access to solutions and benefits of clean energy technology. We look forward to future progress Xcel makes towards an equitable future.”
Xcel’s original four year renewable energy plan proposed to double Colorado’s distributed renewable energy and invest more than $3 billion in the state. However, the plan failed to properly protect and involve frontline and historically disadvantaged communities. After community workshops, Xcel agreed to incorporate the changes to their plan.
“For too long, income-qualified customers and disproportionately impacted communities across Colorado have not had fair and equitable access to clean energy technologies,” said Robert Rigonan, an Earthjustice attorney representing the Environmental Justice Coalition. “This settlement is an important first step in addressing these historic inequities and ensuring that all Coloradans can access the bill savings and benefits provided by rooftop solar, community solar, and battery storage.”
On September 14, 2022, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission held an evidentiary hearing on the settlement agreement, and it will soon deliberate and decide whether to approve the settlement.