Getting down to business on municipalization

In November 2011, voters in the city of Boulder narrowly approved measures 2B and 2C, allowing exploration of the municipalization option. On Feb. 21 we get our first look at what the city believes it can offer. At that time city staff will release for public and city council review its draft strategies for municipalization options.

From the start, the Boulder Chamber has taken a proactive role in the debate over municipalizing the power supply; serving as both a representative for our membership and an emissary to the various stakeholders.

The business community represented by the Boulder Chamber supports Boulder’s clean-energy goals. Renewables and energy efficiency have undeniable advantages for businesses of every size. The possibility of a more sustainable energy model is exciting and timely. We welcome the opportunity this discussion provides.

However, expectations must be tempered with accountability, and we will be weighing the possible against the proven. A sound proposal will include:

• An attractive balance of rates, reliability and renewables.

• Thorough modeling and realistic assumptions for quantifying financial risk in the short and in the long term.

• An explanation of how the city will guarantee its customers rates and reliability comparable with service provided by Xcel Energy Inc. while offering significantly more environmentally friendly energy options.

• A clear and measurable analysis of how much cleaner the energy mix will be, what it will cost to get there, and how long it will take.

• A compelling return on investment that shows the best return in clean-energy value for our investment of time and money.

From all accounts, we reckon that full municipalization will require spending several years and millions of dollars on litigation. Any business person knows that time is money. While the city and Xcel are lawyering up, the opportunity costs of clean-energy collaborations are mounting along with the legal bills.

Recently (1/14/2013, Daily Camera) Shaun McGrath and Tom Plant encouraged the city to explore options other than municipalization, “that could achieve Boulder’s clean-energy goals, including a significantly reconfigured and robust relationship with Xcel.” We agree that “such an option could potentially move us toward a cleaner energy supply as quickly as anticipated through municipalization.” And, we would add, at much less cost and risk if things play out as they seem destined to at present.

When the city reveals its draft strategy options next week, it essentially will be pitching us, as its potential energy customers, a competing bid for the service we already get from Xcel. Though fraught with complexity and heat, it comes down to a vendor decision. We’ll be measuring the new offer against what we have now in the areas that matter to us the most: rates, reliability and renewables.

Here is what we currently get from Xcel:

• Rates 11 percent below national average and 99.9 percent reliability by Xcel’s data.

• Record-breaking technology; according to an Aug. 6 article on CNN Money, Xcel hit a U.S. record in April 2012 with nearly 57 percent of electricity on its grid generated by wind power because of an advanced weather forecasting collaboration with NREL.

According to a Feb. 5 article on government technology “the firm is on track to meet an aggressive state requirement that utilities get 30 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020.

• Innovations such as the Solar Rewards Community program; a collaboration with the solar industry and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, enabling customers to buy renewable energy through community-based solar project developers. Applications exceeded capacity in less than half an hour, according to Colorado Energy News.

If the city wants to win us over, it will have to show it can do significantly better, and do so reasonably soon. Municipalization is a big investment, and we expect something big in return. It’s a bit like paying $100,000 for an electric vehicle. For that kind of money you expect to get a Tesla, not a Prius. Especially if you already have, say, a Volt.

Angelique Espinoza is the public affairs manager, and Elisabeth Patterson is a public affairs associate for the Boulder Chamber. They can be reached at 303-938-2077 or


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