Welcome to the Colorado solar power information page
We recommend starting with this 2014 Solar Savings Outlook and reading up about what's going on in the state as a whole, then exploring further into our local resources in Denver
If you have any questions, our network of solar experts are on call to assist you! Simply sign up for personalized help.
After paving the way forward in 2004 with the nation’s first statewide Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, Colorado continues to display a refreshing foresight for our future and a healthy respect for its environment with strong overall incentives for residential solar power. While there is always room to improve (more performance-based payments and some state tax credits would be icing on the cake), Colorado’s strong solar rebate programs, tax exemptions, and net metering regulations ensure the Rocky Mountain State will remain high indeed on our list of solar-friendly places.
Electric Bill Before Solar
Electric Bill After Solar
Est. Solar Payment
First, take a look at a typical electric bill before considering solar power. That's a nasty outlay of cash. Imagine what you could do with all that immediate savings above every month.
As a result of what the state legistlature has accomplished, you can instead save a bunch of cash. Imagine getting this bill in the mail instead. Whew!
Now, while you have a drastically cut back power bill, you also have a solar lease payment. Essentially, you're renting out your rooftop to a company who then pimps it out with solar panels. Then, you pay a lease payment to them for the power it produces. In each case, this payment added to your existing power bill will be lower than your previous bill, netting you instant savings with nothing down out of pocket! How awesome is that?!
Leasing vs. Buying If you decide not to go with the leasing option, we've calculated the amount of time it would take for your home solar panel system to pay for itself if you put up the cost of the install out of pocket or financed it yourself. This calculation (see the bottom of the page under "5kw Solar System Purchase Payback Time") takes into account all the rest of the incentives below, and assumes you meet all the criteria to take advantage of them (e.g. - having a tax appetite, south facing roof with limited shade, etc.)
40% by 2020
Colorado also mandates that by 2020 at least 3% of retail sales must come from distributed generation (“DG”), i.e., not from giant, environmentally destructive power plants. Even better, at least half of that DG energy must come from local sources.
A strong state RPS is a critical part of the total solar package. By setting a high RPS like 30%, Colorado is not only setting a strong policy standard for other states to follow, they’re also setting high targets for the utility companies to meet. It is, after all, the utilities that sell the electricity to all you Coloradans; a great deal of the burden of meeting the RPS standards falls on them.
What does all this mean for you? It means that you want to make the switch to solar now, while you are being offered all this free money! The utility companies don’t want to just give you cash. They need customers to switch to renewable energy sources to help them meet those state-mandated renewable, distributed generation, and locally produced energy goals.
You can be certain that once the utility companies have met their share of those goals, they will stop supplementing your solar installation costs. That’s why Xcel, for instance, is only accepting a limited number of program entrants for it’s solar rebates and performance payments. You know you want all that free money to help you save your wallet (and the environment)!
What's an RPS? Your state legislature paves the way for strong solar energy incentives to flourish by setting standards for renewable energy generation within their territories. Those standards are called the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). If utility companies do not meet these standards, they must pay alternative compliance fees directly to the state. Many utilities then determine the best ways to source their energy from renewable sources that are less expensive than this fee.
An RPS is a mandate that says "Hey utilities! Y'all now have to make a certain percentage of your electricity from renewable sources. If not, you'll have to pay us huge fines." The consequences are good, because utilities usually try to meet these RPS standards by creating solar power incentives for you, the homeowner.
RPS solar carve out
3% by 2020
What's a solar set aside? A solar set aside guarantees a specific portion of the overall renewable energy mix generated comes from the sun. For those states with progressive standards, high alternative compliance payments, and clear solar carve outs, the faster those areas become ripe for solar.
Some states have higher alternative compliance fees than others, and some states have more progressive alternative energy standards and deadlines than others do.
For instance, New Jersey has an overall RPS of 22.5% by the year 2021. That requires local utilities to source 22.5% of their energy mix from renewable sources by the year 2021. Pretty good. However, New Jersey also has a specific solar set aside of 4.1% by 2028. That’s the type of firm commitment which really gets the industry rolling forward. No wonder why New Jersey is one of the hottest solar markets right now!
Colorado Electricity Prices
Why is energy currently so cheap? Only because we create most of that energy from nonrenewable, environmentally destructive sources like coal and other fossil fuels.
Sooner or … even sooner?! the economic and environmental costs associated with fossil fuels are going to become too much to ignore, and energy prices will go up.
When that happens the payback timeframe on your solar investment will decrease dramatically, and you and your solar system are going to look really, really smart. We’re talking Einstein-level brilliant here - or at least some really famous economist or something.
If electricity were simply to increase at a rate of 5.5% for the next 20 years, we’ll be looking at a $0.39 kWh charge for electricity from the utility. Your power bill for 1200kWh of usage will now total an average $259 a month from what used to be $100/month.
Don’t think it can happen? Think again. Utility rates in Colorado have been increasing at 9% per year over the past 10 years. It is happening already.
But as we said above, every home and everyone’s energy usage is different. The best way to see if solar is right for you is to connect with one of our installers on the ground. They’ll give you a free quote. Free is good. Costs you nothing but time, and if solar is right for you, well, you’re Golden. As in Colorado.
Why are electricity prices so important? Because that is what solar power is directly competing against. The cost to produce power with solar is relatively constant (of course how much sun hits your area has an effect), so if you are paying $0.40 per watt for power, then you make FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the guy or girl paying $0.10 per watt electricity.
The caveat here is that if the $0.10 per watt person has a HUGE rebate, they may be better off than the $0.40 per watt person. Because of that, states without any renewable standards tend to be heavily reliant on cheap coal for electricity, and also have very low electricity prices. When electricity prices are artificially low, that hinders the ability of solar energy to achieve meaningful payback in the state.
Colorado Solar Power Rebates
Varies by utility
A few Colorado localities offer solar incentives. The cities of Aurora and Lakewood, for instance, will refund 100% of the solar installation permit fee. Yes, it is the city charging the permit fee in the first place, but a refund is a refund! Residents of Eagle County receive rebates for the installation cost of solar systems ($1/watt up to $2,000) directly from the county government, and residents of the Roaring Fork Valley are eligible for solar rebates ($.50/watt up to $3,000) from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, a Colorado non-profit organization.
How do solar rebates work? Similar to getting a rebate card from your local big box store for a dishwasher purchase, state legislatures also provide rebates for solar panel purchases to spur on investment and create new jobs. If you purchase the solar panel system yourself, you qualify for this free cash, which many times is a lump payment back to you. Some solar installers like to take this amount directly off the total installed price, and they'll handle the paperwork for you to make things a lot less complex.
The availability of state and utility rebates were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The better the rebates, the higher the grade.
Colorado Solar Power Tax Credits
About state solar tax credits: State tax credits are not technically free money. However, they are 'credits' and not 'deductions' which means that if you have the tax appetite to take advantage of them, then they can be a 1-to-1 dollar amount off your taxes instead of a fraction of the cost of the system. So that means they can be an important factor to consider. In certain circumstances, state tax credits can provide a very powerful incentive for people to go solar.
(Keep in mind, we are not tax professionals and give no tax advice so please consult a professional before acting on anything we say related to taxes)
The availability of personal tax credits for solar energy were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the tax credit amount, the higher the grade.
Property Tax Exemption
About solar property tax exemptions: Property tax exemption status is a pretty big factor when putting together your investment considerations. Many argue that solar power adds approximately 20 times your annual electricity bill savings (if you are owning the system and not leasing. Leasing still has a positive impact on the ability to sell your home though, in our opinion).
For many average-sized solar power systems on a house, that can mean $20,000 to your home value. (Edit April, 2014: Some companies, like Solar Mosaic, are starting to offer traditional style equity-based home loans for such a thing). An additional $20,000 in property tax basis in many states amounts to a big chunk of change owed back to the state. However, many states have complete exemptions from added taxes when you install solar on your home!
The availability of a property tax exemption for solar energy was also sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The stronger the tax exemption, the higher the grade.
Sales Tax Exemption
What's the deal with solar power sales tax exemptions? When states give you a sales tax break on solar, we notice. You should too. State sales tax exemption status for the purchase of solar energy systems were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Sales tax exemptions, if present, were all 100%. A handful of states are completely exempt from sales tax regardless, and therefore received ‘A’ grades by default (OR, DE, MT, AK, and NH).
Solar Power Performance Payments
For the Xcel program, as of 2014, you'll receive $.03/kwh your system produces. In Colorado, a 5kW system will churn out roughly 7000kwh annually, so that's about an extra $200 in your pocket!
Explanation of performance payments: Performance payments represent a big chunk of the financial rationale for going solar, and in many instances they make your decision a wise one. For certain states, if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, not only will you be cutting your electric bill down to size, but you'll be getting paid additional cash from your utility company. Pretty awesome, huh? Not only are you generating electricity for yourself, freezing your own popsicles with sun, and feeling like you’re doing something smart for your children or any of the other 4 reasons people go solar, but you are getting PAID!
Utility companies are paying people with solar panels on their roofs because their states say they have to, otherwise they will pay a fee. Therefore, the payment amount to homeowners is typically a little bit less than the amount they would be billed for by the state. For states with these alternative compliance fees, Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) exchanges have popped up. In the above chart, we outlined an estimate of yearly payments a homeowner might expect from the utility company for the SREC credits from their solar energy system.
Expected SREC payments were calculated by using the latest trade values in the SRECtrade database. The availability of feed-in tariffs were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the expected monthly payments, the higher the grade.
If you don’t know what an SREC is, or how they work, check out this great SREC video
Time it Takes for 5kW of Solar Power to Pay for Itself
- Year 1 REC payments: subtract $222 (7410 kwh x .03/kwh)
- 30% Federal Solar Tax Credit: subtract $5,250
- Annual electricity savings: subtract $781 annually, multiplied by an increase of electricity rates by 1.5% every year thereafter.
- Cost for solar panels after year 1: $11,247. You’ve already cut the price by almost half!
- Time to payback: At the current rate of annual electricity savings, you can expect your new solar system to pay for itself in approximately ten years. After that your solar system will start turning a profit, making you money while you save the planet.
- New electricity bill: While you wait for those profits to start rolling in, you are already saving $65 a month on your electricity bill at current rates.
- Greenhouse Gas saved: Did we mention you’re saving all this money while also saving the planet? It’s true. The 7410 kwh of electricity you produce will save 5.1 metric tons of carbon emission. That’s the same as not buying 572 gallons of gasoline or personally planting 131 trees.
Colorado Net Metering
What is net metering? Net metering is the billing arrangement where you can sell excess electricity back to your utility for equal the amount you are charged to consume it. The more customer friendly net metering policies, the higher the grade.
The grade here specifically reflects individual solar system capacity, caps on program capacity limits, restrictions on “rollover” of kWh from one month to the next (yep just like cell phone minutes), metering issues (like charges for new meters), Renewable Energy Credit (REC) ownership, eligible customers and technology (the more renewables the better), being able to aggregate meters across the property for net metering, and safe harbor provisions to protect customers from solar tariff changes.
Colorado Interconnection Rules
Interconnection rules are a little technical, but they basically allow you to “plug in” to the electric grid with solar panels on your roof. The more complex, out of date, or nonsensical the state rules are for plugging into the grid, the lower the grade.
Specifically, the grade reflects what technologies are eligible, individual system capacity, removing interconnection process complexity for smaller systems, interconnection timelines and charges, engineering charges, prohibiting the requirement of unnecessary external disconnects, certification, spot interconnection vs. wide area interconnection, technical screens, friendliness of legalese, insurance requirements, dispute resolution, and rule coverage.
Home Solar Power: Leasing Vs. Purchasing
To lease, or not to lease? Willsolar Shakespanels would be proud we're discussing this. Here's the basic deal. If you choose to lease your panels, you benefit from no out of pocket costs and an immediately reduced total electricity payment. Because of this, many regard this option as a no-brainer, since there isn't any downside to think of. The only hiccup you'll start to experience is when you consider the long term financial benefit of owning the solar panel system yourself.
In many situations, if you can afford the outlay or can easily secure financing, the cost of the install becomes an investment with a return outpacing even the strongest performing mutual funds. In addition, there's significantly less principal risk, since the energy credits you will be producing are tied to the sun coming up in the morning instead of our financial markets!
Additionally, if you go the leasing route, you must forfeit all the credits and performance payments you would receive by owning the system yourself to the solar leasing company (after all, that's how they can afford to give you such a no-brainer proposition in the first place).
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The consensus on Colorado solar power rebates and incentives
Not that many years ago, Colorado led the way in solar policy. While the state’s policies remain strong, they have not grown much over the last few years. We still rate Colorado an A based on solid solar power rebates and a fantastic net metering law, but to be perfectly honest, we are letting you rest on your laurels a bit here. We’d like to see a few more incentives push that time to payback down to 8 years or less, or Colorado’s solar grade is going to start slipping.
If you have more questions, you are welcome to ask them here, but honestly, your home is unique. The best way to determine how much money solar can save you is with one of our free customized quotes. One of our partner installers on the ground will be happy to explain all of this and more. Heck, get 3 quotes and compare. Get 5! They don’t cost anything but a tiny bit of time. We like free. Especially free solar quotes. We’re pretty sure you’ll love free solar quotes too.
Our older archived Colorado Solar Power costs and savings breakdown images for reference: