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Coloradans dealing with solar connection delays: What you need to know to protect yourself

Xcel has cleared the application backlog, blaming solar installer paperwork problems.
Rod Gomez waits for his solar panels to be connected
Posted at 8:52 AM, Jun 18, 2024

DENVER — As more Coloradans sign up for solar power, Denver7 Investigates has been shining a light on the solar industry.

For years, there have been multiple complaints that installing solar panels is sometimes easy, but getting them hooked to the grid is another story.

And for Rod Gomez, it was a story he got to learn at his home for nearly three decades.

"We've made many, many changes to this property," said Gomez, a retired builder who decided to make the switch to solar. "It's just because I'm tired of Xcel. Every month, they're raising their prices. People are getting hit left and right."

Last December, he signed a contract with Austin-based Freedom Solar, paying $34,000 for 27 solar panels. He thought the project would be done by May, but he is still waiting for his panels to be connected to the grid.

"I've paid for the panels and still have to pay for electricity. When you're a retired couple living on a budget, this can really impact you. We're being basically held hostage," said Gomez.

In 2023, Denver7 Investigates covered months-long delays in Xcel processing solar connection applications. Since then, a new law requires utilities to have timely connections or face fines of up to $2,000 a day.

Brandon Wellcome, Xcel's solar trade relations manager, said the utility has addressed those backlogs.

"There are not really any significant delays," said Wellcome.

According to Wellcome, the process is only taking 15 to 20 business days on Xcel's end.

"Now, keep in mind, there's some back and forth. [Solar companies] have to submit to us some technical documents. We can't control how long it takes for them to get that to us," he said.

In many cases, he said, the process gets bogged down in paperwork issues from solar companies stretched thin, which may be what happened in Gomez's application. While Freedom Solar has not yet responded to Denver7 Investigates, a company representative previously texted Gomez, blaming large layoffs for the paperwork delays.

Bottom line, Gomez said he has paid for the panels and wants to know when he can use them.

"I look at the roof when I drive into the driveway, and it's just so frustrating," Gomez said." I'm paying twice for this operation, and still, I can't get concrete answers."

Wellcome said Gomez should have his power on by the end of this week or next. But this story highlights an ongoing issue, Xcel said, of some solar installers selling unrealistic expectations.

The utility provides information on its website, explaining the process of solar connection and recommending that the system not be installed until passing all engineering reviews and utility approval. Wellcome advised finding out in advance if you will have to make payments for the panels before your system is connected to the grid.

The Colorado Solar & Storage Association has a list of key questions to ask solar installers before signing on the dotted line, including what accreditations they have and what are the upfront and ongoing costs.

COSSA recommends installers should be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, calling it a "gold standard" of certification. Many installers will also be licensed electricians.

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