Steve Pomerance, speaking, was one of about 90 who added to public comment at Boulder's city council meeting on Monday.

Boulder City Council moves ahead with municipalization hearing

BOULDER — In a 6-3  vote, the Boulder City Council has decided to move forward with Public Utility Commission hearings for forming a municipal electric utility, scheduled for April 26.

After nearly five hours of public comment and council deliberation, where about 90 people spoke, the City Council decided that the partnership option and buyout suggestion from Xcel Energy were not enough to warrant putting off the upcoming eight-day hearing, where the PUC will decide whether it approves Boulder’s application for municipalization.

Of the 90 or so people who spoke — many of whom were high school students — only a handful were for anything other than continuing with the municipalization hearing. Of those not for staying the course, most were for a partnership with Xcel.

About 150 people gathered at a rally outside Boulder’s Municipal building ahead of City Council’s meeting on Monday.

But clean-energy advocates said they had entertained and attempted partnership with Xcel before, only to have them not work out. Many invoked the memory of the Smart Grid City, which they called a “$44 million boondoggle.”

City Councilmembers Andrew Shoemaker, Jan Burton and Bob Yates oted for a pause in the municipalization process. However, all three indicated that they were voting that way less for the merits of the partnership settlement proposed and more because they felt enough time has passed and money had been spent that it merited putting the issue back to voters.

“The voters of Boulder are my clients,” Shoemaker said, referencing his background as a trial lawyer. “I want to let them make a decision. If we make a decision now without the right to vote on a partnership, that’s not democratization. There is no harm in staying the case, going back to your client — the voters — and asking for their decision. Then we can go to the PUC and say we have the full support of the voters.”

But the majority of speakers at Monday’s hearing said they already voted, and urged the city council to stay the course.

“I served on an Xcel working group and spent a lot of time coming up with a list of ideas,” Tom Asprey, a public commenter, said. “This is deja vu all over again. A partnership requires commitment on both sides. There is no commitment from Xcel and everything is at a cost to Boulder. People say a bad deal is better than no deal, but I think that’s ridiculous. We lived for seven years not under a franchise. I’d like to turn it around and say, where has Xcel been? If they wanted the customer happy, they should have had some of these changes implemented, not give us a last-minute deal to stop our legal right so they can get what they want, which is delay.”

When it came to her vote, Councilmember Lisa Morzel agreed.

Advocates for clean energy gathered to support the case for Boulder to continue to its scheduled hearings in from of the PUC.

“I’m not going to be intimidated by Xcel,” she said. “I’m not going to back down. It’s important not to be bullied.”

Despite the favorable vote, supporters of municipalization will face its next hurdle almost immediately. On Wednesday, April 19 — the deadline by which Boulder had to decide if it would stay its hearing — the PUC will decide if it will agree with motions filed by Xcel and IBM to dismiss the litigation case, without prejudice. If that happens, then the city of Boulder will have to refile its application and have it heard again by the PUC, likely next year.