ORIGINAL REPORTING: Xcel Energy, municipalization advocates face off in Boulder
Election 2020: Xcel Energy, municipalization advocates face off in Boulder
Herman K. Trabish, Oct. 30, 2020 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: The voters of Boulder opted to take Xcel’s offer so the city will now be a proving ground for commitment-keeping.
A stalemate-breaking franchise proposal to end the 10-year, $27.6 million legal and regulatory fight by Boulder, Colorado, to replace Xcel Energy with a municipal electric utility goes to voters next month, one of more than 100 statewide ballot measures being put before voters across the country this election.
Municipalization advocates remain determinedly opposed to the investor-owned utility. "Xcel is protecting its investments in fossil fuels and slow walking the transition to renewable generation," said Leslie Glustrom, spokesperson for local power advocacy group Empower Our Future. "There are no facts about the future, but there is good reason to believe Xcel doesn't intend to honor the proposed opt-outs and will continue blocking more competitive options," she said of agreement provisions allowing Boulder to renew its municipalization effort if the utiity fails to honor its commitments.
But long-time municipalization advocates, including Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver, said the proposed agreement may be a game changer if the Nov. 3 vote finalizes it. Unlike earlier proposals, "this gives Boulder options to exit if Xcel fails to perform," Weaver said about the agreement developed in a months-long Xcel-Boulder collaboration. "It meets the city’s decarbonization goal, commits to working on democratizing energy decisions, and makes decentralization of generation a goal."
On Aug. 20, Weaver and six council members approved Measure 2C for the Nov. 3 ballot. It is backed by Xcel Energy Colorado President Alice Jackson, who helped design the agreement. Those who worked with Xcel said they saw potential for future collaboration, but also understand how a contentious history makes voters’ skeptical of Xcel's intentions.
The council did not endorse the proposal. With pro- and anti-settlement voices rising, the voters’ decision may turn on who they trust. Led by scientists at national climate research and renewable energy agencies based in Boulder, its electorate has long been active on municipalization, according to former Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Chair Ron Lehr. Lehr acted as unofficial advisor to municipalization advocates before joining the commission in 1984. In 2010, voters approved Issue 2B by 68.4% to 31.6%. It created a roughly $4 million per year tax to support the municipalization effort. In 2011, voters approved a $1.9 million tax increase for the municipalization effort, but by a narrow margin, and the fight with Xcel continued.
In 2017, voters again extended funding for muncipalization-related work by a narrow margin. In April 2020, with the tax terminating in 2022 and the COVID-driven economic downturn severely compromising Boulder's budget, Weaver, Council Member Yates, and city staff began working with Jackson and Xcel representatives on the agreement that set six goals that reflect municipalization objectives… click here for more