Xcel Energy Inc. (Xcel) has planned for a new Innovative Clean Technology program to test clean energy technologies before using them in power plants. Domestic usage charges would be 14 cents a month and small businesses would be charged 22 cents a month, thereby raising $6 million from customers each year from 2010 to 2013. The charges would help in paying for the program. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) would have to approve Xcel's application before it comes into practice.

We hope the ICT will provide the missing step for a utility between research and development and commercial deployment, said Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz. You don’t want to demonstrate new clean technology on a 200- to 300-megawatt power plant. You don’t want to put in that much investment and find out the technology doesn’t work.

As per CPUC spokesman Terry Bote, CPUC would offer a 30-day notice period for parties to intervene. If there is any opposition, the commission could hold hearings that could last as long as 210 days.

It’s hard to tell what the timeline will be, Bote said. It could take one month to seven months before a decision is made on the application.

As far as Xcel is concerned, they want customers to pay for everything, said Stan Lewandowski, general manager of Intermountain Rural Electric Association.

The first project under the program would be a 1-megawatt concentrating solar power demonstration at Xcel’s Cameo plant near Grand Junction.

Concentrating solar power has been used in California’s Mojave Desert to produce 354 MW of electricity for nearly two decades.

Now-a-days, utility companies want to deploy concentrating solar technology with storage on large-scale projects. Having stored heat allows a plant to keep producing electricity after the sun sets.

Recently, Xcel required request for proposals for up to 600 MW of concentrating solar power with storage.