Low Electric Rates Keeping Solar Panels Off Longmont Roofs

October 5, 2018

Bob Monnet, of Flatiron Solar, hands a panel down to Chris Duiker in Lafayette. The rate of adoption of residential solar self-generation technology has been slower in Longmont than in surrounding municipalities, such as Lafayette, Frederick, Firestone, Dacono and Mead.

Longmont’s electricity rates might help explain why the city’s homeowners are lagging behind those of the Carbon Valley, Lafayette and especially Boulder in adopting rooftop solar power generation systems.

But leaders of Longmont solar companies say the city’s monthly $21.60 fee charged to home solar generators — more than the $12.40 fixed monthly fee charged to standard Longmont power customers — also is keeping the number of panels on rooftops lower than in nearby municipalities.

“Longmont’s power is pretty inexpensive, and Longmont Power and Communications, they charge a fee to be a solar customer. What I find out in Longmont is a lot of the (solar) customers don’t use a lot of energy, so the fee kind of offsets the benefit,” said Bob Monnet, owner of Flatiron Solar.

More Longmont power customers have chosen to install solar generation systems this year, with 43 new systems in 2018, Longmont Power and Communications spokesman Scott Rochat said.

But the city, with a population of more than 94,000, according to a July 2017 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau, has just 234 residential solar customers, compared to 454 hooked up to homes served by the United Power grid within the Carbon Valley municipalities of Firestone, Frederick, Dacono and Mead, which had a combined estimated population of 36,632 last year.

Lafayette, whose population was estimated at 28,328 last year, has 577 home solar generation systems, according to Xcel Energy data provided by company spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo. Boulder, at an estimated 107,125 people, has 2,471 residential solar systems, according to Boulder spokesman Ben Irwin.

Payback periods, over which the reduced cost of electricity solar panels provide breaks even with their cost and installation in Longmont, have been calculated to be more than 20 years by city officials, Rochat said, exceeding the eight to 12 years Monnet said is normal under current Xcel electric billing rates.

“This is because Longmont currently has the second-lowest residential electric rates in Colorado out of 58 utilities, so customers are already saving a lot without solar panels,” Rochat said. ”... We are seeing more customers choose solar this year. But with already-low electric rates, there’s less of a financial incentive to do so.”

Longmont’s electric utility, which purchases wholesale power from Platte River Power Authority, charges residential customers 7.55 cents per kilowatt hour of energy consumed for the first 750 kilowatts used in a month, and goes up to 9.99 cents per kilowatt hour for usage above 1,501 total kilowatts. The city gives a lower starting rate to solar customers for the energy they use in addition to what they generate at 6.51 cents per kilowatt hour, and even with greater usage, solar customers’ rates never exceed 7.55 cents per kilowatt hour.

United Power charges 10.76 cents per kilowatt hour used for standard residential customers, while Xcel customers will pay 10.93 cents per kilowatt hour used next month, including the company’s adjustments for seasonal costs, Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said.

But even with the longer payback period for solar customers in Longmont, panel providers are still able to offer home owners plans to meet their goals, though they can be difficult to convince.

“I think there is a common misconception out there that solar is not attainable in Longmont,” said Joe Montoya, senior director of residential services for Namasté Solar in Gunbarrel. ”... We have yet to crack the code of getting that message out there.”

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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