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Engineering a New Energy Future

Engineering a new energy future

Our electric grid, or how our electricity moves from wind turbines spinning on the eastern plains, over transmission lines, through substations and switchboxes and eventually into our homes and businesses, is certainly a modern marvel. And for many of us, it’s something we take for granted. As the city plans for a future electric utility, however, the city is diving into the details of the electric grid. 

If the city began operating its own electric utility, it would own the poles, wires, meters and substations that feed power to customers in our city. Before this stage in the process come a few essential steps, including one in progress on right now: engineering an updated electric system that separates Boulder’s future grid from Xcel’s.

Two Separate Distribution Systems

In 2017, state regulators told the city that it could only serve customers that are within city limits and Xcel would reserve the right to serve customers in the county. This would result in one system would serve Boulder’s customers within the city limits and the other would serve Xcel’s customers in the county. Thanks to our well-defined urban boundary, engineering a separate system is achievable, but still complicated.

The city is currently working with Xcel engineers as well as other firms to design the infrastructure necessary to separate the grid into two distinct systems that maintain or improve reliability for all customers, whether the city’s or Xcel’s. This detailed design effort will help the city estimate the total construction costs and begin to plan for this reconfiguration.

The parties are also working through some of the technical challenges to building a system that allows Xcel to continue to serve customers in enclaves, or parts of unincorporated Boulder County that are surrounded by the city, as well as customers on the city’s edges outside city limits.

Boulder's Current Electric Distribution System

*An approximation

Boulder's Electric Distribution System Post-Separation

*An approximation

Posted May 3, 2019