Apr 24, 2013 8:31 PM by Jacqui Heinrich,

Springs city council puts the brakes on solar garden expansion plan

A utilities rate increase in Colorado Springs is a no-go for now. City council put the brakes on that plan late Tuesday night.

The increase -- set to start May 1st -- would have paid for a solar garden expansion project now in limbo. The city auditor estimated the cost increase to an average rate payer would be about $4 per year, which would have paid to expand solar gardens and allow more utilities customers to purchase or lease solar panels stationed across the city to get a credit on their utility bills.

The former city council passed the rate hike just two weeks ago after eight months of planning. The new council voted 5 to 4 to postpone the hike until August so they can search for more cost-efficient options.

Members of the old council and solar industry workers were dismayed. "Any time you have six brand new members come to city council, they hold the majority and they come in pretty quickly ready to do whatever is on their mind and this one happened to be first on their mind," Councilwoman Jan Martin told News 5.

Solar industry workers say the move sends an anti-business message to those working in renewable energy. "The damage that's been done and what we need to work through as a city is how do we regain confidence among the citizens of Colorado Springs that city council doesn't intend to always to back and forth on its commitments that its made in the past," SunShare President David Amster-Olzewski said.

Opponents argue imposing funding for solar projects on ratepayers isn't fair.

News 5 reached out to council members who voted against the hike for comment, including Council President Keith King, who solicited 'no' votes from other members prior to the public meeting. As of air time, none of the five council members had responded.

UPDATE: Late Wednesday evening, Council President Keith King returned our phone calls and wished to provide a statement, posted below:

"I sponsored the repeal to expand the expansion of the Community Solar Garden. Under the measure which the previous City Council passed at their last meeting, the program expansion would have cost ratepayers at least $22 million. At our meeting on Tuesday, people spoke on both sides of the issue, but nobody denied there are more cost-effective ways to promote solar. For instance, testimony proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we could save ratepayer money if we adopted a cost-of-service approach to customer rebates as opposed to a blended rate methodology. In other words, we could expand the amount of solar in our portfolio at the exact same pace, but at less expense to the ratepayers.

I ran on a promise to keep rates low. I don't see how I could support a solar garden rate increase when there are less expensive ways to subsidize solar. The best approach would be for it to stand on its own merit. We will work to make it rate tariff fair to all ratepayers."


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