October 29, 2011
Voters in Boulder, Colorado are voting today on whether the city should sever its relationship with Xcel Energy, an investor-owned utility, and move toward a home-ruled, municipally owned one that would be environmentally greener and locally accountable. As noted in this New York Times article, there is an “intense environmental ethos” in Boulder. Although the city’s 48,000 Xcel customers account for only 3.4 percent of the statewide ratepayer base, for example, they represent 15 percent of the solar participants. The question is whether a locally owned utility can achieve more renewable, carbon-reduced energy generation on a quicker pace than Xcel would have.
It should be noted that Colorado has a very aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which will require Xcel to have 30 percent renewable energy by 2020. Xcel already has become a big producer of wind electricity. And the coal-fired power plant that Xcel owns in Boulder, Valmont, will be retired by Xcel in 2017, in accordance with an order issued by the Colorado Public Service Commission last year under the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act passed by the Colorado legislature in 2010. Under the plan approved by the Colorado PSC, Xcel will be retiring 550 megawatts of coal-fired generation – including the Valmont plant – by the end of 2017, and replace the generation primarily with natural gas-fired resources.
The ballot initiative, which would require a $1.9 million tax increase in the first year just to pay for planning and analysis, seems like a bad idea. While the drive for local ownership may be attractive for this liberal city in the Rocky Mountains, it will likely lead to higher electricity rates and resource acquisition decisions being made by personnel far less capable than Xcel’s management. Thanks to the wisdom of the Colorado legislature in adopting an aggressive RPS and passing the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, Xcel is already on a path that will drastically reduce its dependence on coal-fired generation. The citizens of Boulder should direct their clean energy agenda in a different direction.