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Xcel announces company record emissions reduction for 2019, raising questions on proposed Boulder utility’s value

Mayor remains supportive of city efforts

Xcel Energy crews work on power poles off Baseline Road in Boulder in April 2017.
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An Xcel Energy announcement Wednesday that it achieved a company record emissions reduction last year yielded conflicting responses from Boulder residents on the value of the city’s municipal utility effort in light of the company’s continued progress.

Xcel, embroiled in a legal matter with the city seeking to condemn the company’s local distribution system to form its own municipal utility, cited low natural gas prices, flexible coal plant operations and strong performance from the company’s nuclear fleet in achieving the more than 10% emissions decrease in 2019 across its multi-state business.

Adding more wind energy into the company’s portfolio also helped, a company news release said, with wind energy now making up 20% of its supply. The company cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.6 million tons last year, it said, and by 44% from 2005’s emissions.

“We’re making tremendous progress on our clean energy journey,” Xcel president and CEO Ben Fowke stated in the release. “Our 2019 carbon results demonstrate our ability to transition to low-carbon energy resources while keeping service reliable and customer bills low.”

But Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver, a proponent of forming a municipal utility, remains concerned the emissions reduction by the city’s current supplier won’t reach 100% renewable energy fast enough, adding there is still value to a locally controlled power supply system.

“Kudos to Xcel for making the changes and leading the industry, but it is an industry that is not moving fast enough,” Weaver said. “When do we get to have the conversation about shutting down all the coal (plants) Colorado? When do we get to have the conversation about using no more natural gas?”

Xcel has joined ONE Future, a consortium of natural gas companies working together to voluntarily reduce methane emissions below 1% by 2025, according to the company, which said studies show that level minimizes impact on the environment.

Xcel has pledged to keep its own methane emissions to less than 0.2% in its natural gas operations.

The mayor added he supports exploring the community choice energy model that could be studied if a bill sponsored by state Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, becomes Colorado law, and is open to replicating California’s independent system operator that matches energy sources to demand through transmission lines that are more open than Colorado’s. The California model allows the moment’s most efficient energy sources, including renewable supplies owned by providers outside a certain distribution market, to be used regardless of where in the state the power is delivered.

But those ideas, if implemented in Colorado, would only offer a portion of the local control that a municipal utility would, Weaver noted.

Patrick Murphy, a Boulder resident who opposes continued work on the municipal utility effort through the website endthemuni.org, took the Xcel announcement as more evidence the company is heading in the right direction and making the city’s takeover effort obsolete.

While local utility proponents have said a carbon-free grid is only one benefit of going the municipal route, with another being gaining control over the grid to give city residents more say in how it is managed, Murphy believes the full oversight of investor-owned utilities through state agencies like the Public Utilities Commission offers consumers more protections than city utilities, which are only partially within the commission’s purview.

He pointed to the ability of city water utilities to raise rates without resident votes, and the recent state denial of an Xcel request for $11.7 million in rate increases for Colorado customers for repairs to its Comanche 3 coal plant in Pueblo.

“We’re not going to get out of this (Xcel service) without paying our mortgage,” Murphy said, criticizing city estimates of Xcel asset acquisition prices that have lacked costs Boulder could encounter. “We owe Xcel for building this system, that’s stranded costs and going concern. We keep pretending like that’s not part of the budget.”

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