The Boulder City Council meets in a study session to discuss municipalization at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway.
An online survey opens Wednesday and continues through March 27 at bouldercolorado.gov. Inspire Boulder, the city's digital town hall platform, also hosts ongoing discussions about municipalization plans.
A conference call to address concerns and questions from the business community takes place from noon to 1 p.m. March 12. To register in advance, go to bouldercolorado.gov/energyfuture/businesscall.
An open house on municipalization strategies takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 13 at the West Senior Center, 909 Arapahoe Ave.
The Boulder City Council holds a public hearing and votes on a municipalization strategy at its April 16 meeting.
To read the full report on municipalization strategies and alternatives, go to boulderenergyfuture.com.
A city analysis that found Boulder could achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if it formed a municipal utility is drawing praise from environmental activists and municipalization advocates, while critics said the analysis is overly optimistic and does not accurately reflect changes that Xcel Energy expects to make in the near future.
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said the city's modeling represents an impressive and thorough analysis of the available data, and that critics should bring specific suggestions for improving the modeling.
The City Council meets Tuesday in a study session to discuss the analysis. The purpose of that meeting isn't to make a decision, but to discuss the report's findings and determine what additional information council members want before they make a decision about which strategy to pursue April 16.
Ken Regelson, an advocate of municipalization who served on one of the advisory committees that contributed to the report, said the city has made all of the assumptions behind the report public, and its modeling will hold up to scrutiny.
"We have a clear path forward," Regelson said. "We have multiple paths to get there. We have multiple paths that meet the charter requirements. We have something concrete we can point to. We get lower rates, same reliability or better, higher levels of renewables and radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."
Xcel Energy said it wants to work with Boulder to develop an alternative to municipalization and warned that plan also includes county residents who did not have a chance to vote in November 2011 on the two ballot measures that allow the city to create a utility.
"Xcel Energy offers to its customers some of the lowest rates, most environmentally friendly and best customer service in the country," Xcel officials said in a prepared statement. "We would very much like to work with Boulder on continuing to improve our service offerings.
"The Boulder plan incorporates assumptions, including the taking a significant number of customers who live of outside the city, that make it a less desirable plan, both operationally and legally. These customers did not have the opportunity to vote on this issue. We believe the analysis underlying the plan require significant review and validation."
The city's modeling found that Boulder could get 54 percent of its energy from renewable resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 percent even under scenarios designed to minimize the cost to ratepayers.
Sam Weaver, a board member of Clean Energy Action and the city's Planning Board, as well as president of Cool Energy, which builds waste-heat recovery equipment, said the environmental benefits of the city's models are not as large as in modeling done by a citizens' group in the run-up to the 2011 campaign that ended with voters approving two ballot measures that allow the city to create a municipal utility.
Weaver, who also served on an advisory committee that contributed to the municipalization modeling, said the city's approach was more conservative and more sophisticated than the earlier modeling.
He noted that not all the options analyzed by the city met the criteria approved by voters. Two options that would have lowered greenhouse gas emissions more quickly could not offer rate parity with Xcel, as required by the city charter.
"If the city had a foregone conclusion for this, the city could have set it up so that all possible choices would have passed the metrics," he said.
Some suspect findings in place before analysis began
Municipalization opponents and skeptics widely hold the belief that the city entered into its analysis with a foregone conclusion.
"The exercise around metrics has been set up so they can continue to proceed with municipalization," said Scott Schaefer, vice chair of the Boulder County Republicans, who said he had not yet read the report. "I think there are a lot less riskier ways we can get more green impact more quickly than municipalization."
Karey Christ-Janer, a Boulder landlord who lives in Berthoud and who has been active in opposing municipalization, said the municipalization options call for too many power-purchase agreements instead of locally generated power and rely too heavily on natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal but poses its own environmental risks and is not renewable.
"The majority of what was exciting about a utility of the future was not included in the modeling," she said.
Boulder Regional Sustainability Coordinator Jonathan Koehn said the city used power-purchase agreements in its modeling because that allowed it to use real market prices and forecasts to model the cost of power through 2037.
However, the city plans to look for as much locally generated power as possible, and as more capacity is created, it can let purchase agreements with other providers expire.
The city is exploring whether it can specify that any natural gas not be obtained through fracking, Koehn said.
However, it's not realistic to use only renewable energy and generate all power locally right away.
"A cornerstone of the plan moving forward is optimizing generation locally, but we can't base all of the power needs on day one on local generation, so we need to make sure we have reliable supply," he said.
In addition to burning cleaner than coal, natural gas works better with intermittent power from renewable energy sources because it can be ramped up and dialed back quickly and efficiently, officials said.
Weaver said the city should keep moving toward more renewable energy.
"The city's goal needs to be a renewable-dominated grid," he said. "The end game has to be getting off of all fossil fuels."
Xcel exec believes utility can go greener faster than city
Xcel Energy CEO David Eves said the company is still working through the city's analysis, but it does not appear to take into account additional renewable energy that Xcel plans to add, including a request for proposals for more wind energy next year and the solar gardens program, which was promoted by Boulder and is just now getting started.
He questioned whether Boulder is simply shifting greenhouse gas emissions to other parts of the state. If the city plans to buy wind energy through purchase agreements, that means there is less renewable energy for other users to buy and they'll turn to coal.
"Is Boulder trying to reduce emissions for the planet or the state? Or are they just trying to say that the emissions aren't coming from Boulder?" Eves asked.
In the past, Eves said, Xcel would make progress toward certain environmental goals only to hear from Boulder officials and activists that it wasn't enough. The city analysis gives the company concrete environmental goals to which it can compare its own efforts.
Eves said he is confident Xcel can offer greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions more quickly than the city could, particularly if the city opts to buy power from Xcel Energy for the first five years. That's an approach Boulder officials believe will limit their liability for stranded power generation costs.
"I think we're going to be there years and years ahead of when a municipal utility would generate meaningful results," Eves said.
Koehn said the city would welcome a proposal from Xcel.
"We're anxious to have a proposal from Xcel that we could model in comparison with our models," he said. "If Xcel can put forward a path that gets us there sooner, cheaper, we would absolutely love to have that and put it up against the other options."
Appelbaum said it's clear from the analysis that municipalization can meet the basic requirements in the charter. Now, critics need to come forward with specifics about what assumptions were wrong or how the modeling is flawed.
"Obviously, not everyone will agree with the analysis, but at this point, we need more than 'I don't believe you' or 'I'm skeptical,'" he said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.