* First Solar stock falls about 5 pct
* Market expects aggressive price moves from China
* First Solar executives report share sales (Add details on share sales, analyst and company comments)
LOS ANGELES, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Shares of First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) fell almost 5 percent on Tuesday as investors fretted about share sales by company executives and aggressive pricing from Chinese rivals.
The stock closed down $7.60 at $147.98 on the Nasdaq after earlier falling to $146.86, while the majority of U.S.-listed solar stocks were up for most of the day. Shares of
Bowing to public pressure, Xcel Energy Inc. on Tuesday backed off, for now, its proposal to institute a minimum monthly fee for customers who get most — or all — their electricity from solar power panels perched on the roof of their home or business.
The new charge wouldn’t have affected any current customers using self-generated solar power, only those who installed solar panels after April 2010. The proposal was part of Xcel’s rate case, a series of proposals for pricing electricity, filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in May.
But the idea of charging solar customers a monthly minimum — to cover the cost of connecting the solar panels to the grid — drew a storm of protest from the Denver-area solar power installation businesses, their customers and supporters including the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO).
With a public hearing before the PUC looming on Wednesday evening, Xcel on Tuesday told state regulators it was dropping the idea.
“We made this proposal in good faith as a reasonable approach to provide for a fair allocation of costs and benefits between customers with solar panels and customers without solar panels,” said Karen Hyde, VP of rates and regulatory affairs for Xcel’s Colorado division, known as Public Service Co. of Colorado. “However, we appreciate that the proposed rate mechanism has caused significant customer confusion.”
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who has touted his “New Energy Economy” platform since campaigning for his office, applauded Xcel’s decision to drop the proposal.
“We appreciate Xcel’s concerns about the cost of distributing power and maintaining the electric grid, and we will work with Xcel to study these issues moving forward,” Ritter said in a statement. “The New Energy Economy has become a key bright spot in the state’s overall economy. We must do all we can to encourage growth as we lead Colorado toward a new energy future.”
Ritter said in the statement that he believed Xcel’s new minimum monthly bill, if implemented, would have been a disincentive for customers to buy solar panel arrays, stifling job growth, inhibiting future economic development and penalizing those voluntarily invested in clean energy.
Ritter said the GEO will analyze the costs and benefits of “distributed generation,” such as rooftop solar systems installed across a wide area, so that state regulators can use that information when deciding the costs and benefits of the rapidly growing sector.
According to Xcel’s proposal and calculations, the average residential customer in Boulder with a 4.5 kilowatt solar power system on his or her roof would have been charged about $1.90 per month, or $22.80 per year. But the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (CoSEIA) estimated that solar power customers in other areas, such as Evergreen, could have paid $200 or more per year.
“It didn’t work,” CoSEIA President Beth Hart said of Xcel’s proposal. “And I’m glad that Xcel is saying that this isn’t working, but something needs to work.”
At the end of June, 5,661 Xcel customers had solar power panels on their roofs. Of those, 3,000 customers, on average, pay nothing for their back-up electricity due to net metering systems, Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said.
Net metering occurs when a customer’s solar panels send extra electricity onto the grid. That energy is ‘netted’ against electricity a customer uses at night or on cloudy days, when the sun isn’t shining. Customers sending more power to the grid than they use roll the net month-to-month and get a check for the balance at the end of the year.
Since many solar-powered customers don’t have a monthly bill, they don’t pay embedded costs for things such as power plants, transmission lines, or equipment upgrades at power plants that are aimed at improving air quality, Henley said.
They also don’t pay fuel costs associated with generating electricity at night, or pay into the “Solar*Rewards” fund that Xcel uses to pay rebates for new solar power systems, Henley said.
Solar*Rewards is funded through a special rider on customers’ monthly bills, amounting to 2 percent of the bill. Between March 2006 and the end of June, Xcel has paid out $86 million through the fund in rebates for new solar power systems and renewable energy credits associated with renewable energy.
“We need to sit down to discuss the most appropriate way to deal with this issue, which we see as growing in the future, and address it for all parties involved,” Henley said.
Xcel’s announcement said it was committed to talking with solar power advocates to address the issue of costs and payments in the future.
And CoSEIA’s Hart said she was willing to start the conversation.
“Consumers are becoming more energy efficient and going down the road more and more to be renewable and to put solar systems on their home,” Hart said. “Any time these things happen, Xcel is losing money because their bills drop.
“We want the utility as backup power. That makes the most sense as an Xcel rate payer, as a Coloradoan, and as a nation. We want our utilities to stay viable. The question is how can we do that,” Hart said.
“I truly believe this conservation is not rocket science,” she said. “Let’s talk about some flat fees, not convoluted calculations that don’t work.”