Suzanne Jones: Muni, Xcel talks are parallel paths
On June 8, the city of Boulder and Xcel announced that we are discussing a possible settlement to litigation regarding a city-owned electric utility. This acknowledgment has led some to speculate that the city must be in a weak position or is looking to bring the municipalization project to a close.
Neither is true.
I’d like to explain more about the parallel paths the city is taking in pursuit of our community’s energy goals.
Our preparation for continued Public Utilities Commission (PUC) consideration is well underway. Lawyers, engineers and city staff are preparing a strong supplemental application to file with the PUC later this summer. This application will benefit from the model of the existing distribution system recently provided by Xcel. Our engineers believe the city can submit a compelling separation proposal that will meet voter requirements while also taking into account the PUC direction we received last December.
Simultaneously, city representatives are also working to negotiate a possible settlement with Xcel. This kind of dual path is common in litigation and represents the city’s good-faith efforts to explore all options — as we promised we would do. We hope negotiations progress; however, we won’t let talks slow down our preparations to file with the PUC.
While we cannot yet disclose confidential details of the negotiations, the parties are exploring possible terms of a meaningful partnership — one that could help us meet our various climate, customer choice, resilience and infrastructure goals. From my perspective, an agreement with Xcel would have to move beyond just setting a target for more clean power. It would have to address the inter-related goals we have developed as a community and produce a template that could be adopted by other Colorado cities, should they choose, including a pathway for reducing climate impacts beyond just Boulder.
As you may recall, we began looking at the possible creation of an electric utility as a means to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. City analysis has shown that electricity generation is the single greatest contributor to our carbon footprint, and it is imperative that we find a way to quickly shift our generation source from fossil fuels to renewables.
Along the way, we identified related goals about leveraging new technology, bolstering our economy, and strengthening our voices as customers. The city wants, for example, to enhance resilience by improving the existing electric infrastructure. We also want to develop programs that can expand energy efficiency, rooftop solar options and battery storage for more community members. Our hard work over the past five years has shown us that the energy utility industry is changing — traditional business models are becoming obsolete before our eyes — and our community can embrace this transition in a way that benefits all of us.
Thanks to all of the work we’ve done on municipalization, I believe that Boulder is negotiating from a standing of strength. Our work — to embark on a groundbreaking path to create a local electric utility, analyze its feasibility, develop a transition plan, and now to create a technically and legally viable separation plan — puts us in a position to succeed in a new energy future, no matter which path we take.
These efforts have already led to positive results. As Xcel itself noted, Boulder has “nudged” Xcel to become a greener utility. In addition, the city’s focus on municipalization and energy efficiency as a primary means to reach our climate goals has attracted attention and money to our community. Resulting grant funds are supporting the city’s work related to resilience, energy systems transformation and on-site generation. Boulder has earned a seat at national and international policy-setting tables, allowing us to influence and participate in coordinated climate efforts with significant impact and reach.