Staff to reveal energy options Thursday

BOULDER – Boulder’s energy staff has prepared six options it will present to the Boulder City Council on Feb. 26, and details of each option are expected to be released to the public late Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21.

The options, one of which is based on the status quo under which Xcel Energy Inc. owns and operates the electrical system in Boulder, were prepared after months of study by the city’s team of its own planners and lawyers, outside consultants and Boulder residents.

According to a message sent from energy director Heather Bailey to community stakeholders, including those in the business community, the options are the result of a “thorough and conservative examination of a range of possible approaches that could be achieved either through municipalization or, maybe, more generally, with a willing and innovative energy partner.”

“We think our report will interest – and in some cases, perhaps even surprise – you,” her message said.

The documents to be released Thursday will shed new light on Boulder’s future energy efforts and is a landmark in the city’s multiyear debate over whether to form a municipal utility. Boulder residents in November 2011 very narrowly approved measures giving the City Council the authority to create a publically owned utility if certain conditions were met.

Six options are on the table and will be explained in detail in a memo to the council that will run about 40 pages, city spokesperson Sarah Huntley said. The memo will include numerous appendices explaining the staff’s findings about whether they are technically and economically feasible and meet Boulder’s goals. They also will include cost projections and are meant to be 20-year forecasts, Huntley said.

Staff will not recommend the council pick one option which it would pursue largely as recommended, Huntley said. Instead, it expects the models will give much clearer guidance about what Boulder would need to do and what it would cost to achieve the goals emphasized in each model. Staff then expects the city council will direct staff which options they would support and which look to be dead ends.

The energy staff then will discuss the proposals in a city council study session on Tuesday. The presentation, scheduled to run from 6 to 9 p.m., is open to the public but will not include time for public testimony.

One option that was studied is remaining with Xcel Energy, which also gives city leaders and the public a baseline for comparison. The other five generally assume municipalization of some form, although one assumes a model where the city would purchase power from Xcel Energy for five years before slowly phasing out its reliance on the investor-owned utility, Huntley said.

Xcel Energy has said for the past few years it believes Boulder can best reach its goals by working with Xcel, and it was the major financial backer of the campaign to defeat the 2011 proposals. Xcel Energy has said it does not wish to sell its system, likely would legally fight an attempt to take it and would not change its business model to give Boulder what it considers special treatment not available to other consumers.

Late last year, though, Boulder leaders and Xcel spoke of a desire to hold talks to see if a partnership could be formed.

But the options discussed in the memos do not include data from Xcel Energy or model a hybrid between the status quo and a muni, Bailey said in her letter.

“I want you to know that the city is open to this possibility and is eagerly awaiting an indication from Xcel Energy officials about what ideas their company would be willing to consider further. Without specific details, however, this is a difficult option to model, so we have not yet done so,” it said.

Boulder has a self-imposed target time of 4 p.m. for publishing the memos on its website, Huntley said. The staff is expected to work through the night doing the final reviews and drafts of the report, she said.

It then will kick off a public review period. It plans a business-focused conference call at noon on Tuesday, March 12, during which it expects to focus on commercial rates and reliability. There also will be a community open house the evening of Wednesday, March 13.

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