Boulder weighs exiting contract with Xcel

BOULDER– The state’s famously progressive college town is rallying around what it sees as a rare opportunity to seriously cut into its carbon footprint. Boulder’s twenty-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy is set to expire at the end of this year and community members are looking to exit the contract and cobble together new deals to make a major shift toward renewable clean energy sources like wind and solar power.

In November, voters will choose between renewing the franchise agreement or letting it expire, which would open the door to establishing a municipalized utility.

A volunteer group known as the Decarbonization Tech Team that was established with the city to explore clean energy supply options has spearheaded opposition to the Xcel agreement. The group claims that in the present rapidly evolving political and technological environment, the city should seize upon the chance to more freely determine its own energy mix.

Xcel Area Manager Craig Eicher, however, argues that the agreement with Xcel won’t restrict the city’s options. He says Boulder could become 100 percent Windsource, for example, an option provided by Xcel for customers willing to pay higher prices.

“We recognize the city seeks to lower its emissions from everything it uses uses [including] what we sell,” said Eicher. “We would like to work together with the city to accomplish these goals.”

But members of the volunteer Tech Team say Xcel’s Windsource pricing is too high. Leslie Glustrom, for example, points out that the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association has just lowered the cost of green power to its customers to $0.09 per 100 KWH block. Xcel imposes a $2.16 adjustment for the same unit of Windsource energy. She says Xcel’s Windsource project has notched a mixed record after reports surfaced that the company was selling more wind power than it owned.

The matter was subject of debate, presentations and voting at a recent public meeting.

One option raised, called Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), would see the city lean on other providers for electricity that would nevertheless be delivered through Xcel infrastructure. Although CCA has allowed communities in California such as Marin County to make heavy investments in renewables, a major hitch for Boulder is that CCA isn’t legal in Colorado. People here say changing that fact would take years of lobbying lawmakers.

Should the voters or the city council decide to reject the Xcel franchise, state law requires Xcel continue to provide power to Boulder. Xcel would no longer collect the franchise fee from rate payers, however, which translates to nearly $4 million in revenue for the city. The city would likely ask voters to replace that revenue by approving a tax on electricity.

Xcel has a reputation as one of the “greenest” utilities in the nation and ranks number-one in wind and number-five in solar.

City staff told the Colorado independent they would like to extend the current franchise for two more years while developing a joint clean energy study with the company. So far, though, Xcel is insisting on settling the franchise agreement with the city by the end of the year.

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Taran Volckhausen is a freelance journalist who primarily writes about the environment, politics, and drug policy. His work has appeared on National Geographic, Christian Science Monitor, The Intercept, Mongabay, among others. He is also a former editor at Colombia Reports. Twitter: @tvolckhausen

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