Xcel Energy wants to limit its energy efficiency and solar rewards programs in Boulder as the city moves closer to starting its own municipal electric utility — unless the city agrees to pay Xcel for Boulder customers' disproportionate use of those programs.

Xcel Energy filed a request with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday asking for permission to modify the way it runs SolarRewards and a number of energy efficiency incentives in Boulder, unless it can reach an agreement with the city.

Xcel Energy Vice President Jerome Davis said the company's preference is to continue the programs as they are, but the company needs to consider the interests of non-Boulder customers in the event that the city creates its own utility and reaps the rewards of Xcel's investment going forward.

"While the company is very reluctant to limit these valuable programs, we do not believe it is appropriate for our customers outside of Boulder to subsidize any newly formed Boulder municipal utility," Davis said in a news release. "While costs are paid for by Xcel Energy customers, the benefits would go to the new municipal utility, once it is formed."

The modification as requested by Xcel would only apply to new SolarRewards participants and new requests for energy efficiency incentives and would not affect existing contracts or requests for rebates that are currently in the pipeline, Xcel officials said.

The value of existing contracts and incentives will be addressed during the condemnation process. The city has not filed for condemnation, but it has sent notice of intent to Xcel that it plans to acquire the company's Boulder assets.

Davis said the company is seeking limits on Boulder customers' participation in accordance with how much Boulder customers pay toward those programs if the city will not pay some sort of additional compensation to Xcel.

Boulder wants programs to continue

Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said the city's attorneys have not had time to thoroughly analyze the filing.

However, the city has said repeatedly that it wants the programs to continue and does not want non-Boulder customers to be harmed. However, Huntley said, Xcel has not provided enough information about its solar contracts for the city to make an informed decision about an agreement with Xcel.

Huntley said the city has asked for information on the number of solar contracts in Boulder, the terms of those contracts and the financial implications for the city, but Boulder has not received information from Xcel in a way that would allow officials to independently verify the information.

"The company has been saying 'sign this agreement,' but they haven't given us any information to determine if that agreement is reasonable," Huntley said. "That puts the city in an untenable position. Until we have information from Xcel that we can verify, it wouldn't be very responsible of us to just sign an agreement."

Mayor: Xcel is 'bullying' Boulder

Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum called the move "bullying" by Xcel to try to stop the city from continuing to explore municipalization.

"It has been suggested that if you don't have a franchise, you don't get the same suite of benefits as other customers, even though Boulder customers pay the same electric rates as other customers," Appelbaum said. "If you're not going to give us the benefits, then lower our rates. We're not costing other customers money. We're saving them money because Xcel doesn't have to go out and procure new and more expensive power sources."

Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said that might be true of past participants in Xcel's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, but it won't be true of future participants if Boulder creates its own utility. She stressed that the modification Xcel is requesting only applies to future customers.

All Xcel Energy customers pay for these programs through the renewable energy standard adjustment and the demand-side management cost adjustment on their bills, but Boulder customers have tended to participate in the programs at higher rates than other Xcel customers in Colorado.

This is Xcel's second attempt to limit Boulder's participation in solar rebates and energy efficiency programs. The PUC rejected a similar request in 2012 because the commission members felt it was premature. At that time, Boulder was much earlier in the process of exploring municipalization.

'We're trying to protect all our customers'

Davis said Xcel believes it is appropriate to address the issue now because Boulder has filed the notice of intent and the City Council has authorized the city to file condemnation at the appropriate time.

Davis said the company is not trying to punish Boulder.

"I'm a little frustrated that this is portrayed as us punishing the city," he said. "We're trying to protect all our customers and ensure that we can continue these programs."

Blake Jones, CEO of Boulder-based solar contractor Namaste Solar, called the filing a "low blow" but said he is not surprised because Xcel has tried similar tactics in the past.

"Xcel has been giving these kinds of threats ever since the municipalization conversation started," he said. "It's still disappointing to see them discriminating against Boulder residents and using them as a way to deter the municipalization exploration process."

A hearing on the request has not been scheduled. There likely will be a public comment period before the commission makes a ruling on the request.

Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino contributed to this report. Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355, meltzere@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/meltzere.