This is our Wisconsin.

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Last week, the solar energy train in Colorado screeched to a halt when Xcel Energy pulled the emergency brake. After years of increasingly crucial rebates and incentives for residential and business customers, Xcel, a publicly regulated utility with a virtual monopoly in the state, abruptly halted its participation in the program. The decision was without warning, took effect immediately and may or may not be permanent.

The impact on the local solar industry is predictable and devastating.

Xcel says they took action, in part, because applications for rebates were exceeding their expectations. One wonders whether they expected to publicly support renewables just enough to reap the PR benefits but not enough to see any real impact on their bottom line. Or their carbon footprint.

Given the massive Federal subsidies for coal, from which Colorado derives about 70% of its electricity, state-sponsored incentives are critical to the success of renewable energy companies that strive to create a vital commercial market for clean and sustainable alternatives. Until the playing field is level, the market can’t deliver the shift in our energy mix required to ensure our collective survival, literally let alone financially. And the shape and slope of that playing field is determined by politics, not economics.

This is our Wisconsin.

It’s a gateway move by a powerful entity with a vested interest, to test the political will of the industry, consumers, and the State House. Just as Scott Walker is being watched by other governors, Xcel Energy is being watched by other utilities — and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

What will the PUC do? We have to wait and see. Just like we’ll have to wait and see how our new Governor and his team respond.

What can and should be immediate, however, is a loud, clear, strong statement from Xcel ratepayers — one that’s made with feet, dollars, votes and voices. We hope they express their support for solar energy and their resolve to fight shortsighted policy decisions, whether those decisions come from industry or government.

The labor movement was not a straight line. Nor was unionization perfect or pretty. But collective bargaining gave us the 40-hour work week and a host of other “goods” we now take for granted. Led by a progressive vision at the grassroots, it persisted until the centers of political and economic power relented. Our society’s definition of “work” shifted fundamentally and, we hope, permanently. The renewable energy movement is no less vital. We must continue to fight for it.

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