Utility group offers recommendations

BOULDER – The city of Boulder’s governance working group on Monday released a set of recommendations for city council with regard to how a nine-member utility advisory board should be composed if the city moves forward with creating its own electric utility.

Perhaps most notably, the working group addressed how to give municipal utility customers who aren’t city residents a voice in the utility’s oversight, something that’s become a hot-button issue in the municipalization debate given that the city’s proposed scenarios include taking over service for some nonresidents.

The 15-member governance working group, which includes representatives from the local business, governmental and residential communities, was formed in May to look into what additions to municipal utility governance that city council should consider either by ordinance or by amendment to the city charter.

The working group honed in primarily on the duties and makeup of the utility advisory board, which the city charter stipulates would advise city council in its decision-making with regard to operations of a municipal utility.

Among the working group’s recommendations, which will be formally submitted at a city council study session on July 23, is that at least one seat on the utility advisory board be filled by a noncity resident within the service territory.

The charter allows up to four members of the advisory board to be nonresidents of the city as long as they are owners or employed by Boulder businesses, or work for a government entity served by the electric utility. The working group recommended that a charter amendment be added that would allow non-resident customers of the utility be allowed on the board regardless of whether they met the business or government criteria.

Boulder voters in 2011 approved two ballot measures allowing the city to pursue creating its own municipal utility and study the feasibility of doing such. The city’s proposals for municipalization include taking over service for about 5,800 county residents who live outside the city limits.

“I know that’s been a huge issue for lots of folks in the county,´ said Carl Castillo, the city of Boulder’s policy adviser who was the staff lead of the governance working group. “By (requiring the presence of a non-Boulder resident utility customer on the advisory board), you would be giving a sense of confidence to those residents (that they would be treated fairly in management of the utility).”

Castillo said that recommendation from the working group likely wouldn’t be acted upon until the city determined for sure that it could take over service of any customers outside the city limits.

The governance working group’s other recommendations included an ordinance to ensure that the advisory board would represent both large and small customers in an effort to keep the board from being dominated by, say, large businesses or government organizations.

The working group also recommended that the council generally seek advisory board members that collectively have skills in engineering, finance and economics, law, energy strategies to achieve greenhouse gas reductions, and utility operations. The fourth skill, regarding greenhouse gas reduction strategies, is one that the working group recommended making a requirement of at least one advisory board member.

The final recommendation made by the working group suggested that the utility advisory board be given the role of advising city council on electric rates, something that hadn’t been specifically spelled out in the charter.

Issues that the governance working group didn’t consider but could still in the future if city council asked included: the advisory board appointment process and term limits, and how city council would delegate additional powers to the advisory board.

“The working group was very engaged and very interested in continuing to work,” Castillo said.

If the city council agrees with the working group’s four recommendations, the next step would be to draft ordinances and/or charter amendments. Such action likely wouldn’t be taken on July 23, however, as there will be a flood of information presented at the study session.

In addition to the governance working group’s recommendations, city of Boulder/Xcel Energy task force will present its findings on what ways the city could partner with Xcel – rather than creating its own utility – on achieving its goals of moving toward the use of more renewable energy.

Power Services Inc., will provide its third-party assessment of whether the city has adequately shown it can meet charter requirements regarding the creation of an electric utility. By July 23, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission might also have ruled on a city petition for clarification on whether the city’s stranded costs owed to Xcel for creating a municipal utility would be reduced if the city bought a certain percentage of its energy from Xcel for a period of time.

“That’s going to be a monumental news event,” Boulder communications manager Sarah Huntley said of the July 23 study session.

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