In an effort to create its own renewably-powered utility, Boulder, Colo., is reaching out to the solar industry to explore how the city will transition from its current electric supply from Xcel Energy to renewables. Boulder’s efforts to create its own utility have drawn national attention from utilities and the renewables industries.
At the heart of the matter, Boulder’s contracted electric utility—Xcel Energy—was not able to deliver some of the things it promised to the city. For instance, Boulder was supposed to be a test-bed for smart meters through a program with Xcel. But the utility said the costs of the program were much higher than anticipated and it got far behind on installing the meters. As such, the city decided to investigate creating its own electric utility—it is still investigating this option.
Boulder is now creating a working group of solar industry specialists and customers “to explore motivators and barriers to implementing more solar throughout the community,” city officials said. The group will work to define what the next-generation of solar incentives will be. It will also provide guidance about how to handle solar contracts between now and when the city decides whether or not it will create its own utility.
“Supporting and increasing renewable sources of energy is a core value, and we see this discussion as an important next step in our effort to create the electric utility of the future,” said Heather Bailey, executive director of Energy Strategy and Electric Utility Development.
A key question for the working group will be if the city creates its own utility, how will it transition existing utility customers with solar to the newly-formed utility? And how it will encourage continued participation in solar installations during this period of deliberation and the during the transition? Since the city may transition to its own utility, Xcel has already sent a letter regarding these issues, and the city said it will protect residents and businesses that have gone solar from any adverse impacts related to the creation of a municipal utility. But, said city officials, “Boulder has no way, however, of evaluating the estimates that Xcel has made about these costs.”
“Before we can agree to any arrangement, we need more information from Xcel Energy,” said City Attorney Tom Carr. “The company so far has declined most of the requests for data the city has made. Without detailed information about these contracts, we have no way of verifying Xcel’s assertions and perhaps more importantly, of making sure we are doing the right thing to protect our forward-thinking customers and other ratepayers.”
In creating the working group the city hopes to benefit from local experts, which include the national laboratories like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and universities.
The city already has a high penetration of solar with roughly 14 megawatts installed locally, including community solar gardens and it want to keep growing its solar power. However, “We don’t want to simply continue this tradition; we want to make it even stronger by working with stakeholders to identify ways to encourage even more locally-generated clean energy sources,” Bailey said. “This is fundamental to achieving our community’s goals, whether we create our own electric utility or strike a new agreement with our current provider, Xcel Energy.”