If you go

What: Boulder Energy Future Roundtable

When: 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway

More info: There will be a brief opportunity for public comment at the end of the round table discussion. To read the full paper on alternatives to municipalization, go to tinyurl.com/bjdo3tq.

Boulder has released a set of ideas that could meet the city's energy goals while allowing it to partner with Xcel Energy instead of forming its own energy utility.

City officials said the paper is part of the due diligence the city is doing in exploring all of its options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, inject more renewables into the city's energy supply and provide more local control. It does not mean the city is turning away from its research into municipalization.

"The council has been clear that we need to look at alternatives," Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said. "We don't know if municipalization is going to happen, and if we can find an alternative that meets most of our goals, why wouldn't we pursue it? Municipalization is a means to an end."

Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said the paper is also intended as an offering to assess Xcel Energy's level of interest and ability to develop new initiatives that would meet the city's needs.

"The purpose is to really see if there is any additional interest with our current provider to discuss innovative and intriguing ideas that could be alternatives to our current municipalization plan," she said.

Representatives of the city and Xcel have continued to meet regularly, even after Boulder voters last year narrowly approved two ballot measures, one authorizing the city to develop a municipal energy utility and the other raising the utility occupation tax to pay for the effort.

Custom Solar master electrician Tom Russo works to hook up solar panels Friday, on the roof of a building in Boulder’s Wilderness Place neighborhood.
Custom Solar master electrician Tom Russo works to hook up solar panels Friday, on the roof of a building in Boulder's Wilderness Place neighborhood. (JEREMY PAPASSO)

However, they haven't been able to reach an agreement that would forestall municipalization.

In the paper, officials say one of the barriers has been that Xcel Energy wants the city to enter into a 20-year franchise agreement. Huntley said a traditional franchise agreement doesn't make sense when technology is rapidly evolving, and the city wants a different business arrangement with its energy provider. However, the city is willing to enter into some sort of long-term agreement that would ensure Xcel could recoup its investments -- provided the energy company could significantly increase its use of renewables and make other changes to meet Boulder's needs, Huntley said.

Xcel Energy Regional Vice President Jerome Davis said he's excited to see the city talk publicly about partnering with Xcel Energy, but it's hard to negotiate while the city continues to research municipalization. Davis said the city should take a six-month break from its efforts while it sits down with Xcel.

"It would be extremely helpful to engage in a conversation without the threat of municipalization and pending litigation over our heads," he said.

Davis said Xcel also wants Boulder residents to have the chance to vote on a franchise agreement.

Boulder will not stop its analysis of municipalization, Appelbaum said. That would be "inappropriate and not in keeping with what voters voted for." He also said it would increase Xcel's negotiating position relative to Boulder.

Some of the ideas presented by the city in paper were discussed before the municipalization vote, but Boulder and Xcel couldn't reach agreement. Others are new ideas.

Huntley said officials believe the regulatory environment may be different now that Boulder voters have authorized the city to create an energy utility.

Xcel Energy has contended that it cannot treat Boulder differently than other Colorado customers. However, state law does allow energy companies some flexiblity in dealing with customers who have stated their intention to leave the system.

As much as Xcel Energy opposed the municipalization vote, that vote communicates an intention to leave the system and might give both sides more flexibility, Huntley said.

The two sides have been able to work together before, Huntley said, pointing to the Community Solar Gardens legislation which will allow people who cannot put solar panels on their own property to buy into larger solar arrays and receive the same benefits on their energy bills.

Boulder County is partnering with Clean Energy Collective on a solar garden that will be put in near Marshall early next year.

The ideas presented by the city include:

Enhancing SmartGridCity The current system only allows communication between the meter and the utility. New technology allows meters to also communicate with customers and give them real-time information about their energy use.

Partnering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Additional wind generation capacity could be built at the National Wind Energy Technology Center south of Boulder, and Xcel could facilitate the transmission of that wind energy to Boulder.

Xcel Boulder Boulder would form a municipal utility that would give it more local control and Xcel Energy could form a subsidiary that would be the primary provider of wholesale power to the city. That subsidiary could test new business arrangements and technologies.

Boulder Rate With Boulder having expressed its interest in discontinuing service from Xcel, Xcel may be able to offer Boulder customers a special rate outside its regular rate structure that would include much more renewable energy. That rate might "unbundle" generation and transmission costs -- which might change quite a bit -- and distribution costs, which would remain the same.

Some of the ideas would require changes in state law that might be difficult to achieve, city officials said, but are still worth exploring.

Community Choice Aggregation Available in several other states, CCAs permit cities and counties to purchase and generate electricity for their residents and businesses. Investor-owned utilities still manage the electrical distribution system, but municipalities can secure alternative energy supply contracts by aggregating the buying power of their individual customers.

Netting Use and Generation through Contract The city sells its hydro and solar power to Xcel at wholesale rates and buys power from Xcel at retail rates. Boulder cannot use renewable energy generated at one site at another site within the city. "Netting" use and generation would save producers the difference between wholesale and retail rates and encourage more renewable energy use.

Feed-in tariffs Under Colorado law, customers cannot generate more than 120 percent of their historic energy use. Feed-in tariffs would allow customers to produce more energy and sell it to the utility.

The papers also presents several ideas the city could pursue whether it partners with Xcel or forms its own utility.

Expand energy-efficiency programs The city could amend its occupation tax and use the money to offer more incentives and rebates for energy-efficiency programs. However, that wouldn't change the carbon-intensity of the city's energy supply.

Formation of Energy-Efficiency/Distributed Generation Incubator Boulder and Xcel could partner with existing institutions, scientists and entrepreneurs to develop the next generation of clean energy technology.

The city also could change its code to allow backyard wind turbines and could encourage more local energy distribution.

Huntley said the paper is "not a demand letter," but a starting point for additional negotiations. However, "we can't talk with ourselves," she said.

"We really feel like the next steps to take have to come from Xcel, not from us," Huntley said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or meltzere@dailycamera.com.