Solar industry executives say their industry is struggling from Xcel Energy’s abrupt decision to restructure its Solar Rewards rebate program earlier this year, a claim Xcel disputes.
Neal Lurie, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, said based on information provided by members, the state’s solar industry lost 400 to 600 jobs after Xcel restructured its program.
“It was completely unexpected and surprising. It really shook the market,” said Blake Jones, president of Boulder-based Namaste Solar Electric Inc.
The objective of the Solar Rewards program was to have customers pay half the installation price of a solar system, with the other half covered by Solar Reward incentives and tax credits. Michelle Aguayo, spokeswoman for Xcel Energy, said by early this year the company was paying about 75 percent of the installation expense due to rising installation costs and a fall in system prices.
After suspending its rebate program in mid-February, Xcel resumed it a month later. The company reached an agreement with the solar industry to cut solar subsidies by 56 cents per watt and implement a new sliding scale that would trim incentives as more megawatts of solar installations were built.
Aguayo couldn’t verify Lurie’s job-loss figure but said many of those losses included the collapse of “mom and pop” third parties that were contracted by solar companies to install systems in order to defray costs. She said lack of financing of those third-party installers caused them to fail.
“Some of these mom and pops — whether or not we made changes to the program — were probably not going to survive to begin with because their own industry was seeing changes and fluctuations,” Aguayo said.
Lurie, however, said Xcel’s action led to job losses for a broad range of solar companies and not just one segment of the solar industry.
Jeff Altman, vice president of sales and marketing at Bella Energy, said the projects that would have come during the suspension period — had the rebate program been in effect — would be in their installation stages in the coming weeks. Bella laid off 15 full-time installers this week, more than half of its workforce.
Altman said he hoped a few upcoming business opportunities would make up for the “considerable loss” of sales that he attributed to the suspension of the rebate program.
Colorado solar companies employ about 5,300 people; the state’s clean-technology industry as a whole employs about 19,000.
Between 2006 and 2010, Solar Rewards paid nearly $212 million in rebates for more than 7,000 solar-power systems generating a total 90.4 megawatts.
The suspension surprised the solar industry, which heavily relied on the program to attract business.
Jones said he expected a loss of 1,800 to 2,600 solar jobs in the state by year-end because of uncertainty resulting from the restructuring. Namaste laid off 12 of its 77 employees in response to a 50 percent drop in sales.
“I’m disheartened that they have such a low viewpoint of their own industry,” Aguayo said. “We fed a lot of money into this industry to help get it kick-started, but at some point we have to get back to that 50-50 split.”

By Justin T. Hilley (303-954-1064 or [email protected])
The Denver Post

POSTED: 06/17/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
UPDATED: 06/17/2011 06:38:45 AM MDT

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