Xcel files request to see energy models

BOULDER – Xcel Energy on Wednesday filed an open records request with the city of Boulder, asking to see the models the city has used when trying to determine if it could create a utility, the company announced.

The request, which is governed by provisions of the Colorado Open Records Act, follows a Tuesday night city council study session in which members told staff, consultants and volunteers they were on the right track after passing “the first major milestone” on its way to potentially creating a municipal utility.

City staff members and outside consultants have spent the past few months trying to determine whether Boulder could create its own utility that, in its eyes, would be better than Xcel Energy Inc. Xcel Energy is the owns and operates the power system in Boulder.

The municipal utility would have to charge lower rates, be at least as reliable and safe, create less greenhouse gas and use more power from renewable sources.

They found that over a 20-year horizon, the city could create a utility that would fulfill those criteria, said Heather Bailey, the executive director of energy strategy and electric utility development.

The day the city would decide to municipalize remains in the future, but the teams models and risk analysis had favorable results for municipalization advocates.

“This is not a decision to municipalize. I know a lot of people are under the impression that this is the decision,” Bailey said. “It is, ‘Can we municipalize?’ “

Xcel Energy on Wednesday filed an open records request with the city, seeking to see the models the city used.

“We believe that in releasing the models requested, the city will truly ensure a robust discussion on the city’s energy future. It will give all interested parties equal access to all the information the city is studying and a better understanding of how they arrived at their conclusions,” Xcel Energy regional vice president Jerome Davis said in a press release. “This will help the city continue its path of transparency in the process.”

Xcel Energy specifically want the “inputs” the Boulder team used to build their models, spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said.

“If they get the slightest detail incorrect, it can entirely throw off the model,” she said.

The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Since November, Bailey has led a large team comprised of members of the city’s planning, environmental affairs and legal staffs, outside legal counsel and independent utility and engineering consultants conducted the study.  Working groups of citizens also were involved.

They modeled if the utility could meet its criteria while focusing on five different sets of goals and priorities. They also created a baseline using its projections for how Xcel Energy would meet those criteria.

City manager Jane Brautigam said the city would like Xcel’s help in its research, saying it would be helpful it Xcel could challenge the baseline scenario the city created. In December, the city also created a white paper about ways Xcel and Boulder could partner, and they have met several times.

The findings were made public and posted on the city website on Feb. 21. They are part of a memo for the council. The memo includes a summary report and several attachments and appendices. Together, they run to 287 pages.

The study session was to give council members more detail, and the city council did not approve any specific plan. The council’s April 16 meeting is when council is scheduled to vote on whether the team should continue its work toward creating a utility.

Until then, the public is able to comment on the findings. The city is setting up a conference call focused on business-related topics on March 12. More information is available online.

One new development announced at the meeting is the formation of a citizen advisory group whose members would be appointed by Boulder and by Xcel Energy. Each party would appoint the same number of members.

The group’s goal is to investigate ways a partnership between the city and the utility company could move forward, according to Brautigam.

Xcel Energy still plans to work with the group, Aguayo said.

The group will meet while the city and its experts forge ahead.

“We’re hopeful the charge of this group will be to return with some ideas by early July, so we can keep this process moving along,” Brautigam said.

Xcel Energy currently owns the power system in Boulder, and the company has said it does not want to sell it. That means the city would have to file eminent domain litigation. The City Attorneys office has set Aug. 6 as the date it would like the council to give it the authority to begin the negotiations with Xcel Energy that are required as part of the eminent domain process.

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