Read the report in the Daily Camera — After grilling from regulators, Boulder says it will rethink muni approach. Copied below in its entirety:
Xcel workers work on Sixth Street in Boulder in February. (Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer)
The Public Utilities Commission of Colorado, presiding over Boulder’s application to form a municipal electric utility, has concerns about the how the city envisions itself transitioning from incumbent electric provider Xcel Energy.
During a pre-hearing conference on Friday, ahead of an eight-day trial set to start in late April — and roughly three months before the PUC’s deadline to rule on the application — the commissioners indicated that they remain unsettled about when and how, exactly, the city would begin serving local customers.
At the heart of the case is a plan put forth by the city in which it would enter into a wholesale power agreement with Xcel and lease back the facilities it hopes to acquire from the company, starting on the first day of the potential municipal utility’s operation.
Boulder wants to buy power from the company for those five years while building out its own assets.
The PUC does not have the authority, however, to advance the city’s “gradual departure plan” by requiring Xcel’s participation in a wholesale deal.
“On matters such as contracting and the gradual departure plan, we are not seeing the authority you are trying to vest in the commission,” said Chairman Jeffrey Ackermann.
What is referred to in the case as Day One — the point at which the city, having paid for and taken title to Xcel assets, begins to provide service to Boulder ratepayers — would actually look a lot like today, according to the city’s plan.
Attorney Thorvald Nelson, representing Boulder, said the municipal utility “becomes the provider” on Day One, “but is using and relying on the wholesale service provided by (Xcel) to accomplish that.”
The fact that Xcel must enter into that arrangement voluntarily has given the commissioners pause about approving a plan with the confidence that the Boulder ratepayers will continue to be reliably serviced.
“We’re trying to be sensitive to a municipality pursuing its constitutional rights” to municipalize, Ackermann said, “but also trying to figure out who controls what here.”
All parties say they agree that it is not the PUC’s job to approve or deny Boulder’s “gradual departure plan.” The city says it’s hoping the commission will weigh in by making a series of findings related to a “conceptual framework” for an agreement with Xcel, though the commission appeared unconvinced on Friday that it has any meaningful influence over the transition proposed in the application.
“I will tell you, Boulder, you have laudable goals,” Commissioner Frances Koncilja said, “but this is a pretty vague plan so far, with a lot to be negotiated.
“I’m very concerned with where we are in terms of what we haven’t seen in this plan so far.”
The PUC’s chief engineer, Gene Camp, also cast doubt recently on Boulder’s approach in a staff recommendation that the commission deny the application. His testimonial was one in a series filed in February, and several others — including IBM, an electrical workers union and the state Office of Consumer Counsel — also offered criticisms.
Nelson suggested that application will change between now and the April hearings. The city is expected to file rebuttal testimony on March 30, and it may propose “significant” amendments to the transition plan.
Xcel has “tremendous concern” about that prospect, attorney Judy Matlock said.
“Rebuttal testimony is to defend your case,” she said. “To go in and say, ‘Oh, we heard what you said, but what do you think of this new idea?’ — that’s not proper rebuttal.”
Ackermann said on multiple occasions this week that all parties seem to agree in the case, except Boulder. Nelson said Friday that “the commission process isn’t a popularity contest.
“It isn’t a democratic vote of the parties,” he added, reminding the commission that its view, and not that of Xcel or any other interested body, is the one that counts.
Koncijla responded that Nelson’s comment was “a little condescending.”
“We know we don’t take votes. I’m willing to call balls and strikes,” she said. “This is going to be a very lengthy hearing and the trial is going to be very difficult if you try to answer questions we haven’t asked and if you try to rephrase things in a very insulting matter.”
It was one of several times on Friday that Koncijla — who, with just over a year in office, is the most tenured of the three commissioners — took issue with the city.
Nelson said that because Boulder’s rebuttal testimony is expected to include new proposals, the city would be willing to allow Xcel more than the presently scheduled five days it will have to respond to the rebuttal.
Koncijla objected, saying that the commission had already committed to an expedited timeline at Boulder’s request.
“We all three here work hard. Staff works hard. So that’s not going to work for us.” she said. “You always manage to step into it and insult us. We’ve worked hard to get you this schedule . . . To jam this up so we can’t get our other work done is just not acceptable.”
Reminds me of a line in the movie “The Searchers” in which Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) says to Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond), “Put an amen to it!”
It’s way overdue for Boulder City Council to stop the charade of a municipal electric utility which will NOT generate a single watt of power, but will continue to be dependent on others. It’s an ill-conceived plan which has always been NUTS . . .