City of Boulder Looks at Its Energy Future

By Chris Hoffman

The City of Boulder is confronting a critical decision this month that could impact Boulder’s ability to create a municipal utility and end its relationship with Xcel Energy.

On Monday, April 17, the Boulder City Council will decide whether to move forward with Boulder’s case before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. That decision is being triggered by two so-called “settlement” proposals delivered by Xcel Energy on March 31, abruptly prior to the start of the city’s critical PUC hearing on April 26th. In one proposal, Xcel is offering the opportunity for Boulder to “buy out” Xcel’s position for $900 million. The other proposal asks the city to sign what is essentially another franchise agreement, which Xcel is calling a “partnership.” Xcel has made termination of city PUC proceedings a necessary condition of its “settlement” offers.

Boulder’s hearing before the Public Utilities Commission will examine the city’s technical separation from the Xcel Energy electric grid. If approved by the PUC, the separation plan would pave the way for the city to move forward with the process of transferring Xcel’s assets. The separation hearing is a critical milestone in Boulder’s municipalization case. A decision is expected in June. The PUC has already recognized that the citizens of Boulder have the constitutional right to create a municipal utility, but there is no precedent or legal roadmap for this technically complex process.

‘Empower Our Future’ is urging the Boulder City Council to continue with its case before the Public Utilities Commission, and reject the Xcel settlement offers.

“This so-called partnership agreement is just a proposal to renew a franchise,” said former city councilmember Steve Pomerance. “As written, it provides Boulder no leverage to achieve its carbon reduction goals. Furthermore, Xcel wants to work out the ‘details’ after we’ve given up our case at the PUC.”

Commenting on the last-minute Xcel proposal, former Boulder Mayor Susan Osborne pointed to a decade of negotiations with Xcel Energy that have yielded no concessions for Boulder. She said, “This late-breaking offer is nothing but an effort to derail our PUC case, just when it is beginning to look encouraging. Boulder voters have authorized the city to explore a municipal utility numerous times. We cannot betray that mandate now.”

Sixty-six percent of Boulder voters approved moving ahead with a MUNI in the last public vote.

Shaun McGrath, also former a Boulder Mayor, said, “I believe the burden is on Xcel to quantitatively demonstrate how their proposed options will accomplish Boulder’s goals. What I saw at the last study session was far short of that.”

Clean energy advocate Alison Burchell believes that “we should stay the course at the PUC. If Boulder succeeds in creating a MUNI, the city will be creating a pioneering roadmap to a clean energy future and future generations will inherit those benefits.”

Since 2005, Boulder has been assessing the feasibility of creating a municipal utility in order to gain the freedom to develop more renewable energy resources than would be possible under an Xcel franchise agreement. Increased renewable energy production would help the city meet its climate change mitigation goals, which include a 100% renewable energy power supply by 2030. Municipalization would also provide a vital economic stimulus to Boulder’s clean tech companies. Just as importantly, it would save Boulder ratepayers money. In contrast, Xcel Energy generates 70% of its power using fossil fuels, primarily coal, and plans to continue using its new $1 billion coal-fired power plant until 2070.

MUNI supporters plan to gather at 5:00pm in front of the Boulder Municipal Building on Monday, April 17, at 1777 Broadway, Boulder for a rally prior to joining the Special City Council meeting.

Empower Our Future is a coalition of community organizations, local businesses, former local elected officials and individuals with a vision of a sustainable world and a shared commitment to bringing the best local clean energy future to Boulder. Empower Our Future’s mission is to move forward on a path to a 21st century utility that provides innovation, local economic development, sustainability and energy reliability at competitive rates, while providing clean energy with lower emissions.

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