Boulder can operate utility, but should it?
Last Updated: 17:34 March 8, 2013
Heather Bailey, the city's executive director for energy strategy and electric-utility development, gave a presentation of the city's recent work at a meeting hosted by the Boulder Chamber.
Since November, a group of city planners, environmental specialists and attorneys have worked with outside legal and engineering consultants to determine whether Boulder could create a utility that would meet criteria established in the city charter. Among the criteria were that the utility be as reliable as Xcel Energy Inc., the city's current energy provider and the owner and operator of the local electric grid. The municipal utility also would have to meet environmental goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while charging customers no more than Xcel would.
The criteria were established in November 2011, when Boulder voters narrowly approved ballot measures giving the city the authority to create a utility under certain conditions.
The city's studies in the past few months have been about whether it could form a utility that met the minimum requirements, Bailey said. In a report issued in February, city staffers concluded that the city could.
"That test, we considered the floor," Bailey said. "I think to move forward with municipalization, the municipalization proposition would have to be a lot better than that."
If the city council gives it the go-ahead at its April 16 meeting, the next phase is to study whether the city should create a utility.
The city also would need to know the steps it would have to take to launch the utility. That would include looking at legal strategies if Boulder and Xcel ended up in litigation, talking to bond-ratings agencies to prepare for issuing debt and creating a governance structure. An implementation plan also would have to be created at that stage, she said.
Work on that phase is scheduled to wrap up around the end of the summer.
Bailey said the city is trying to make sure it hears a diversity of viewpoints, including reaching out to the business community at events such as Friday's lunch and a conference call focused on business-related topics scheduled for noon Tuesday. Registration for the conference call can be made online at http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=5759.
Businesses use about 70 percent of Boulder's power, and the city is trying to build safeguards into the process that would ensure "fair and equitable" rates for businesses, Bailey said. The city also has provisions that would allow representatives of businesses to serve on the utility's oversight board.
Ultimately, however, it's the concerns of voters that drive the process, and in repeated elections, Boulder voters have approved measures calling for pro-environment policies.
"Boulder is a community that has very clear values about what's important to them," Bailey said. "As a business community, you have different interests, and not all of you have the same interest and the same level of need for certain things. But as an overall community, Boulder's made it clear that climate action is important, so that's what we hope to address when we move forward."
The city continues to hope that it can work with Xcel Energy to develop a partnership, but nothing concrete has yet emerged from early discussions, Bailey said.
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