Boulder lets Xcel franchise deal lapse while city explores greener energy

BOULDER – After failing to reach an agreement with Xcel Energy that would adequately reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels, the Boulder City Council this week guaranteed the city will allow a 20-year Xcel franchise agreement to expire at the end of this year by voting not to put it on the November ballot.

Clean energy activists in Boulder. Photoy by Taran Volchhausen
Instead, voters will have the option to impose a tax on the utility company to replace $4 million the city receives in revenue from the current franchise agreement while city staff explores way to increase Boulder’s reliance on “green” energy to generate electricity.

“Xcel has done too little, too late,” said councilwoman Lisa Morzel, who voted with the 6-2 majority against placing the franchise agreement on the ballot. “The current franchise agreement doesn’t parallel Boulder’s values.”

The council followed a staff recommendation – hailed by environmentalists – against asking voters to renew the expiring franchise agreement with Xcel.

“We want to be proud when we put something on the ballot, we want to be able to say this gets us where we want to go,” City Manager Jane Brautigam told council. “We think a 20-year agreement is just not ready to move forward this year; we can’t put it proudly on the ballot.”

Xcel area manager Craig Eicher, addressing council before the vote, admitted the staff’s recommendation is “not exactly what we would have preferred.” He said Xcel would continue to provide the same service to Boulder residents “with or without a franchise agreement.”

The city – committed to reaching carbon reduction goals set in the 2006 Climate Action Plan – now has two paths forwards. The city could continue working with Xcel and possibly enter into a more amicable franchise agreement later after greater clean energy assurances are made by the company or the city could try to move forward alone and “municipalize” the city’s electricity supply.

“We remain open to working with Xcel Energy,” said Brautigam. “If they are willing to make the bold moves we are, then maybe we can remain partners into the future.”

She also said that “municipalization” could incur “incredible” legal costs and that since council has not asked staff to explore that alternative to Xcel “it is an option we are not at yet.”

Before the meeting, Boulder activists rallied on Broadway and Canyon in front of the Boulder Municipal Building to encourage the council to accept staff’s recommendation.

The majority of activists in the crowd, which included children, seniors and adults of all ages, wore yellow shirts that read “Keep our energy options open.”

“I don’t have to remind you of the dead trees, of the thousands of species that hang in the balance waiting for us to break our addiction. We wait and we wait for Washington, D.C. and in case you haven’t figured it out, we aren’t going to be turning this country around from Washington, D.C. any time soon,” said clean energy activist Leslie Glustrom, addressing a jubilant crowd of energy activists. “So it’s precisely in place like Boulder that we can lead the way.”

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