Boulder Still Wants to Acquire Xcel Energy’s Distribution Assets to Run a City-Wide Utility

boulder-coloradoBoulder is relentless in its determination to become the nation’s greenest city. But is its ongoing attempt to acquire Xcel Energy’s distribution assets the smartest way to go about it?

In a legal document filed with the Colorado Public Public Utilities Commission on September 28, Boulder said that it has altered its original plans and now only seeks to municipalize distribution assets inside city limits, and those necessary to serve its people. It does not seek to take over generation or transmission assets.

“Boulder is not seeking the transfer of generation assets or transmission assets nor is Boulder seeking to acquire assets used exclusively to serve (public service commission) customers,” says the document

Rather, Boulder’s request includes only the electric distribution facilities and real property interests (the “Property”) necessary for the new electric utility to serve its customers located within the City Limits. Some of the Property that is necessary to serve customers within the City is located outside the City Limits and Boulder seeks the Commission’s transfer approval for those assets, as well,” it continues.

Parts of Boulder’s earlier application had been rejected because it sought authority to operate outside the city’s boundaries.

It’s long, hard and expensive fight for any city to takeover their local utilities. Boulder has spent at least $10 million so far. 

Boulder’s goal has always been more green energy and it has complained that Xcel has not moved at a fast enough pace. Xcel, though, has consistently been named one of the greenest utilities by those who measure such things.

In November 2011, city residents voted to condemn Xcel’s distribution assets within city limits and to prepare to take over that aspect of the business. The hurdles: agreeing on a price and guaranteeing that the municipal rates would be at least equal to that of the utility.

For its part, the city says that renewable energy would immediately comprise half of its offerings for the same cost that its citizens now pay Xcel. It also says that greenhouse gases would fall by 50 percent under its plan. It says Xcel would prefer to invest in combined-cycle natural gas plants. 

Xcel emphasizes that it would be a willing partner in the effort to help Boulder achieve its green energy goals, pointing out that for the several years running it has been named the top wind energy provider in the country. Better to let the experts run a utility, it implies, than a city that has trouble picking up the trash on time.

The argument against taking on such a huge initiative is mostly about money: It will take billions of dollars — and lots of energy and tenacity, as well as obtaining the expertise. Xcel, for example, says that Boulder is under-estimating its bills by about $10 million to $15 million a year.

It is also saying that Boulder under-estimates operational expenses by improperly figuring both the cost of wind energy and integrating it onto the grid. The wind power, meantime, must be backed up by natural gas plants that are running at all times. Generation and distribution are large capital expenditures while the engineering, fuel and maintenance all add up.

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3 thoughts on “Boulder Still Wants to Acquire Xcel Energy’s Distribution Assets to Run a City-Wide Utility

  1. Boulder has a noble intent that its citizens should receive more green power and it needs to be supported. Xcel’s argument that Boulder will not be ale to run the electric utility for itself has not much merit as there are hundreds of cities that run their own electric utilities successfully.

  2. Boulder has no involvement in city trash pickup. There are a couple of private companies that offer that service.

    Calling Boulder “a city that has trouble picking up the trash on time” suggests a lack of familiarity and an inclination to paint the city government in a bad light.

  3. I have no faith in the city to estimate the actual cost of running a utility. They have no experience running a utility. Like all government projects, it will be well under the actual cost and take much longer than they project. Why? Because the politicians that drive this project won’t be in office anymore. They can and will promise the world to us for short term political gain without consequence.

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