Editorial: Boulder, Xcel talks could carve new path

Our fingers are crossed.

News that the city of Boulder and Xcel Energy are engaged in high-level settlement talks over the city’s push to create a municipal-owned utility should be welcomed by observers, including opponents and proponents of municipalization.

Boulder and Xcel announced June 8 that they were engaged in settlement discussions, releasing a joint statement that read, in part, “While settlement negotiations are typically confidential and sensitive in nature, Boulder and Xcel Energy have decided to publicly acknowledge this ongoing process in an effort to be as transparent and open as possible. This being said, the nature and extent of the discussions will remain confidential unless and until a conceptual agreement is reached, at which time it will be shared with the community and impacted stakeholders. The settlement would require Colorado Public Utilities Commission review and approval.”

It might be too soon to shout, “Hallelujah,” but we’re cautiously optimistic that the sides have reached this point after five years. Boulder secured voter approval to pursue municipalization in 2011 as a way to achieve its climate-action goals. A counter-proposal by Xcel to increase renewables was deemed insufficient.

Five intervening years have brought victory and defeat for both sides in various jurisdictions, including the PUC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and courts. It’s likely that these rulings — and more to come — pushed the city and Xcel to the negotiation table, as has the millions of dollars spent on the effort.

Any compromise would likely include a new franchise agreement between the city and Xcel, an agreement that would need voter approval, perhaps as early as this November.

We hope they get there. Municipalization never should have been the “end-all” of Boulder’s efforts. Rather, shifting away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy should be the goal. Municipalization would have offered one means to that end, but the cost of condemning Xcel’s assets and fighting it out in courts and with regulators might very well be too high.

Let’s hope that these talks identify another path forward. Xcel is regarded as one of the greenest utilities in the nation. But if Boulder can push Xcel to even greater strides away from coal and toward wind and solar, so much the better — both for Boulder and other cities working toward similar goals.

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