Boulder has convened a working group to look for ways to cooperate with Xcel Energy as an alternative to forming a municipal energy utility, even as the city prepares to take the next steps toward forming that utility.

A vote on whether to move forward with municipalization plans is set for April 16, but the City Council already has given a nod toward hiring a consultant to review the analysis it has done so far.

That move is a requirement of the charter before the City Council can vote to form an energy utility.

The Boulder City Council voted 8-1 on Tuesday night to issue a request for proposals for an independent third-party reviewer to examine the city's analysis, which found that the city could offer much greener power at rates similar to or less than those charged by Xcel.

Councilman Ken Wilson voted no. He said hiring the outside expert is premature because the city doesn't have the necessary information to do a complete analysis.

The expert will look at all the information the city put into its models and the soundness of the modeling itself and render an opinion on whether the city's analysis is correct.

Also on Tuesday, council members heard an update from City Manager Jane Brautigam on the formation of a working group to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cooperation with Xcel instead of by forming a utility.

In a memo to the council, city officials said the working group would have a tight deadline to come up with concrete proposals.

"Both parties view the exploration of options short of municipalization as important," the memo said. "After months of attempting to find common ground, including the publication of a 'white paper' by city staff offering potential alternatives, the parties agreed that it would be productive to ask a group of smart outsiders to explore the possibility of a partnership between the city and Xcel Energy and report to council."

A successful cooperation between Xcel and Boulder to reduce the provision of energy from coal could provide an example that could be replicated throughout the Xcel system and adopted by other utilities, the city memo said. That raises the possibility of having a greater impact on regional contributions to climate change than the city could have on its own.

The 12-member working group includes six members agreed upon by Xcel and the city, three chosen by the city and three chosen by Xcel. However, the city is not disclosing which members are which.

There are still three open positions on the working group because three people who were invited to serve declined.

The working group members identified so far are: Sanders "Skip" Arnold, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado, an organization that provides energy assistance for low-income people, and a former executive with Xcel Energy; Eric Blank, former energy project director with the predecessor organization to Western Resource Advocates and co-founder of Community Energy Inc., a company that develops clean energy technologies.; Ann Livingston, director of market development for Snugg Home, a developer of energy efficiency analysis software; IBM Vice President Pete Lorenzen; Downtown Boulder Inc. Executive Director Sean Maher; Diana Moss, vice president and senior research fellow at the American Antitrust Institute; John Nielson, energy program director at Western Resource Advocates; Boulder Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Tayer; and Sam Weaver, who is responsible for engineering management and daily business operations at Cool Energy, a waste heat recovery company.

Boulder and Xcel are still negotiating over some of the procedural details. However, the group is expected to start meeting next week and produce a report by mid-July.

The group's recommendations will be presented to the City Council on Aug. 6, the same meeting at which the council will consider whether to move forward with condemnation of Xcel's energy distribution system within Boulder.

"Staff believes that it would be irresponsible to go forward without making every effort to explore all alternatives," the memo said. "This working group has the potential to provide valuable information to council about the potential, or lack thereof, for a partnership with Xcel Energy."

The working group meetings will be closed to the public, but meeting minutes will be published after the fact, officials said.

Several community members urged the City Council to look for ways to cooperate with Xcel Energy but also to secure firm commitments from the energy company before abandoning municipalization.

"Xcel has a history of promising and not delivering," said Boulder resident Rick Tazelaar.

Karey Christ-Janer, a Boulder landlord and Berthoud resident who has become an activist against municipalization, said working with Xcel could create much larger changes than the city striking out on its own.

"If we don't change Xcel, what chance to do we have to mitigate other entities like Xcel?" she said.