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Flipping switch on solar panels proves to be a challenge for Marshall Fire survivors

Xcel admits it has capacity and infrastructure issues in the burn area
Marshall Fire victim rebuilding his Louisville home himself
Posted at 5:13 PM, May 01, 2023

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — For Christian Dino, as with many other Marshall Fire survivors, rebuilding has been a challenge.

“It’s been a long journey,” Dino said while giving us a tour of his newly constructed home.

Dino was able to rebuild in the same location where he lost his previous home in the fire on Dec. 30, 2021.

“My wife finally gets her dream kitchen, and we were able to take full advantage of views that we have here,” he said.

But up until now, what he hasn’t been able to take advantage of are the solar panels he installed as part of his rebuild.

“We’ve already spent $60,000 on a system that I don’t know if I’m even going to be able to use,” Dino said.

Dino built his home to the City of Louisville’s new 2021 green codes, including solar, electric appliances and EV outlets. However, the Louisville City Council adopted an ordinance last year that allows Marshall Fire victims to rebuild in accordance with previous building codes.

Dino received notice from Xcel informing him the infrastructure in his area lacked the capacity for him to flip the switch and feed the grid with the solar energy he produces.

“Because they’re not sure the infrastructure can support it, is what I’m told,” Dino said. “It seems the due diligence was not done to determine whether or not the infrastructure could support the requirements that the city is mandating.”

For its part, Xcel admits it does have an aging infrastructure with limited capacity to handle the power generated by homeowners.

“We have to ensure that we have the capacity on the distribution side,” said Hollie Velasquez Horvath, regional vice president of state affairs and community relations. “Our system was built many decades ago and it was only built to push power in."

This map details areas in red where Xcel lacks capacity for solar-generated power.

Velasquez Horvath says new infrastructure will take time.

“It’s a process,” she said. “If we ultimately did it all at once, it would be an extreme cost for all of our customers. And a transformer can only withstand a certain amount of capacity. Would it require potentially a new substation? Maybe. It’s a long game.”

In Dino’s case, after Denver7 started asking questions, Xcel conducted a second engineering study and is now allowing Dino to flip the switch on his solar panels.

“We have facilitated and streamlined his process to make sure that we enable that for him,” said Velasquez Horvath. “We now are aware that more customers are going to need that urgent response.”

Dino is encouraged by that, but he still believes that Louisville and Xcel could be more transparent.

“How can they have these expectations of us as homeowners when they’re not saying what they can provide?" Dino said.

He cautions others who are rebuilding to ask questions before installing solar.

“Even if mine gets approved, someone’s going to have a problem tying into the system,” Dino said. “I don’t know how an everyday homeowner is going to be able to achieve this. I think something needs to give.”

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