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As Small-scale Solar Expands, Utilities and Critics Clash

solar-panelsResidential and small-scale business solar generation is growing by leaps and bounds, but critics allege that utilities are unfairly guarding their turf when it comes to smaller players hooking into the grid.

In 2008, consumers added 522 megawatts in solar generation, while utilities added a meager 96 megawatts, reports Newsweek.

In all, 2008 saw 33,500 rooftop solar systems added in the United States, up 63 percent over 2007. In California, the increase was more pronounced at 95 percent.

But as consumers and small businesses add solar to their rooftops, utility companies have been less than accommodating in allowing new hookups to the existing grid, critics say.

For instance, Colorado utility Xcel Energy sought to add fees to solar users, ostensibly to ensure they paid their fair share of transmission and generation cost. This caused rampant confusion and frustration on the parts of those who added solar panels, and finally, Xcel withdrew its proposal to add the fees, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In California, regulators are considering requiring utilities to buy power from smaller-scale solar renewable producers, those with capacity of one megawatt to 10 megawatts, under a feed-in tariff program, reports GreenTech.

PNM, the biggest utility in New Mexico, in July filed a request with the state to reduce incentives for businesses and homeowners to install solar panels. The utility argues that it exclusively has the right to own solar panels systems that are connected to its grid, according to Newsweek.

Meanwhile, attempts to establish a national feed-in tariff languish in the House of Representatives.

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