Xcel can’t subsidize Boulder experiment

Last November, voters in the city of Boulder narrowly approved a measure that authorizes the city to leave Xcel energy and create its own municipal utility.

But here’s the rub: If Boulder customers receive Xcel rebates for things like solar panels now, and the city abandons Xcel in favor of a municipal system, Xcel and the rest of its customers could lose much of the investments they made in Boulder through the rebates. The Boulder municipal utility would reap the savings for the energy programs that Xcel customers throughout Colorado helped to fund.

There are legal processes for Xcel to recoup some of that money, but it’s unclear what portion Boulder might have to return.

Xcel customers statewide are already helping to pay for Boulder’s $45 million Smartgrid system, developed as a partnership between the city and Xcel. The smartgrid could be a useful experiment that eventually benefits all of Xcel’s customer base. But much of that investment may be lost if the city leaves Xcel to form its own utility.

The concern from much of the rest of the state, including Grand Junction, is how much Xcel customers in the rest of Colorado might have to pay for solar rebates and other energy-efficiency programs if the city abandons Xcel to establish its own utility.

That’s a legitimate concern, and the reason Xcel has asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for permission to tweak its rebate program with regard to customers in the city of Boulder. The PUC should grant that request — at least temporarily while the Boulder City Council decides whether to proceed with creation of a municipal utility.

That’s not a foregone conclusion, according to news articles in the Boulder Daily Camera. Although Last November’s ballot measure authorized the city to create a municipal utility, it did not mandate it. Conditions were included to ensure that if such a utility is established, its cost to Boulder customers will be comparable to Xcel.

As recently as last week, the Camera reported that Boulder city leaders said no decision has been made yet on whether to leave Xcel. Boulder officials have also argued that it’s unfair for Xcel to treat Boulder customers differently from other customers, so long as they remain part of the Xcel system.

Boulder has long been one of the most innovative energy communities in the country. The municipality and its citizens deserve credit for that.

But the rest of Xcel’s customers shouldn’t be left footing the bill for some of those innovations if the city decides to go it alone as a utility.


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