Just as it was becoming clear the coronavirus pandemic would devastate city coffers, Boulder and Xcel Energy announced mid-May that discussions would begin to explore a new path to help Boulder meet its future energy goals. That exploration will include alternatives to a municipally managed, community-owned electric utility – something long-sought by various city councils and Boulder residents.
Listen to the report:
Boulder began its acrimonious divorce from provider Xcel in 2010 with a voter approved ballot measure to standup its own electric utility in order to reduce greenhouse gas and address climate change. During last night’s public comment, Jim Morris urged council not to give up the fight.
“Since 2010 we’ve spent 2-3 million dollars a year or a total of $23M – all voter-approved,” said Morris. “In contrast, Xcel took home $23M in profit last year and has profited millions each previous year. The city has won many of its necessary cases and we’re super closer to getting our own utility and it’s time to keep going.”
Boulder has spent so much money to start its own electric utility because from the outset Xcel dug in its heels to keep a major customer – using the courts to slow the process. Originally hostile to Boulder’s carbon reduction requests, 10 years later, Xcel has promised to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050 and says it wants to work with Boulder on its energy priorities. But should an agreement be reached, Boulder voters would need to approve. Patrick Murphy, originally a supporter of the muni is now a critic. He believes Boulderites are ready to move on.
“Early in the muni process we negotiated an offer where Xcel would dedicate a wind farm to Boulder electric usage that would cover 80 percent. Did we get to vote on that? No,” said Murphy. “In 2017 we had two negotiated options – were we allowed to vote on those possible off-ramps? No. The history of failure to allow us to vote is clear – let us vote.”
City Engagement Officer Sarah Huntley says beginning this Friday, Boulder will host a series of five virtual townhalls to let the public offer feedback on the city’s negotiations with Xcel. She acknowledged there would be constraints.
“Obviously the first constraint is the pandemic, so while we usually would want to bring community members into a room to have conversations about something of this magnitude, we’ll need to use a virtual platform,” said Huntley. “We’re also in a time constraint, because if council wants to consider a franchise agreement that needs to go on the fall ballot and to accommodate that it a decision is needed by the end of July.”
At the same time the city prepares to negotiate with Xcel, the latest financial model projects a more than $30 million loss in city revenues this year due to the impact of the coronavirus on sales taxes and other revenue sources.
Representatives from the power company will be at some or all of the town halls. The first is this Friday at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.bouldercolorado.gov/local-power/working-with-xcel-energy.