Local Power is the city's effort to bring clean, local, affordable and reliable electricity to the community by developing a community-owned local electric utility.
Local power is a key component of the city's Energy Future strategy, as well as the city's Climate Commitment.
Many in the community refer to this project at “municipalization” or “muni.”
Yes. The city is actively exploring ways we can shift the source of our electricity from fossil fuels to renewable resources—and reach our climate goals faster. This work includes Local Power, developing the city’s solar and electric vehicle strategies, state policy work and collaboration with other communities.
According to the city’s 2018 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory , electricity generation comprises 48% percent of the city’s emissions. This makes electricity generation a powerful lever to reduce our emissions: transitioning from coal and natural gas to wind and solar will play a big role in the city reaching its climate and energy goals.
In December 2016, Boulder City Council approved a new set of climate and energy goals. The four principle goals are:
Information on sub-goals and progress indicators is available in the Dec. 6, 2016 City Council Memo .
- Renewable: The community will rapidly decrease its dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source, supporting efficient and electrified buildings and vehicles.
- Local: Boulder will host a robust energy economy, with more control over its energy supply, investments, and services, that meets the needs and expectations of its diverse community.
- Accessible: Competitively valued energy and technology solutions will serve and help improve the lives of all community members.
- Reliable and Secure: The energy supply will be stable, resilient, safe and protected against threats.
Municipal Electric Utilities
A municipal electric utility is an electricity provider run by the city. 29 cities in Colorado are served by municipal electric utilities, including Longmont, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
Other cities with municipal electric utilities have experienced the following benefits:
- Freedom to choose how electricity is generated
- Ability to develop programs and services unique to each community. For instance, many utilities support clean tech entrepreneurial community, ensure a just transition and enhance the resilience of social and physical infrastructure.
- Options to keep more energy dollars local.
- Lower costs for all customers over time.
- Power to invest in the reliability and resilience of our infrastructure.
- Increased customer input in utility rates and programs.
While there is no guarantee that a Boulder municipal electric utility would realize all of these benefits, analysis indicates that they are possible.
Local electric utilities can make choices that can result in a variety of additional services and benefits to their communities.
- Colorado law is clear. If Boulder owns its electric utility, it could make policies and create programs that are different from what our current laws and regulations allow through an investor-owned utility.
- A Boulder utility can pilot new and important technology, like battery storage and electric vehicles, which contribute to community resilience.
- It can offer you opportunities to share input in some utility decisions.
- A Boulder utility will be able to control the rates it charges and re-invest excess revenue into improving our community’s energy system.
- Perhaps most importantly, the utility would be based in Boulder. Your service needs, concerns and ideas would be addressed here.
Customers of Xcel Energy don’t have a lot of control over how their energy is produced. In 2018, Xcel Energy produced over 70 percent of its electricity using fossil fuels and less than 30 percent with renewables . Municipal electric utilities in Colorado are permitted to choose how their power is generated. If the City of Boulder became a municipal electric utility, the city could determine its generation mix, which would likely include a higher percentage of renewables than currently power the city. This would help reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
Municipal electric utilities also develop their own programs. A city-run utility could choose to offer more programs that encourage growth of local solar and energy innovation. It’s possible that the city would develop programs that further reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric Distribution System Serving Boulder
The existing Xcel Energy electrical distribution system serving Boulder is located on the northwestern boundary of the Xcel Energy front range electric system. It is bounded on the north by Poudre Valley REA, on the northeast by the City of Longmont, and on the southwest corner by United Power (a Cooperative Electric Association).
As of January 2018, the Boulder system has approximately 49,239 customers (Xcel 2018 Community Energy Report for 2017-year end) with a summer peak load of approximately 237 MW (this number is taken from the Dec. 2018 update to the FFT. It does not include the PSCo peak reserve margin of 16.3%. If the reserve margin is included, the summer peak is 276 MW.).
The customer base consists of approximately 85% residential and small commercial and 15% large commercial/industrial customers.
The system serves a compact area and includes several significant load centers such as the University of Colorado, several federal labs, high-tech centers, and industrial areas.
The City of Boulder is exploring municipalization of its distribution system so it will become the retail electric provider to Boulder customers. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved the service territory of Boulder to be limited to that territory within the boundaries of City of Boulder, an approximate 17,505-acre area. The CPUC has approved the transfer of assets by Xcel and separation of the existing system into two separately operating systems. The city is responsible for paying all of Xcel’s costs for separation.
By Colorado law the provision of retail electric service (service to end-users) is an exclusive grant or monopoly. The CPUC is responsible for establishing the specific service territory boundaries of each public utility or municipal provider. Until the city can serve customers in the city, Xcel’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity giving Xcel the right and obligation to serve the city, covers city customers.
Open Space Buffer
The Boulder service area is surrounded by over 41800 acres of Open Space which has been purchased in fee or by conservation easement with tax funds that prohibit development on the property. As a result, there is a buffer that varies between zero and three miles that, in many areas of the city, generally does not have or require electric service. The boundaries of the city are not allowed to go beyond the open space buffer.
For future planning of electrical service needs within the open space buffer, not all of the properties are included within the city. By a joint comprehensive plan between the city and the county, property will not be annexed to the city unless it requires increased development and municipal services. Prior to being able to increase the development on any property, the property must be annexed to the city. As a result, within the open space buffer, there are properties in unincorporated areas that will continue to be served by Public Service until they are annexed, but any significant load growth would be part of the Boulder System.
Bulk electric power is delivered to Boulder via the Xcel Energy transmission system. That system is comprised of a 115kV loop that begins at the Valmont switchyard on the eastern edge of Boulder, passes westerly through Boulder, around the west and southern edges of Boulder and back to Valmont. Additionally, the 230kV line that delivers most of the power to Xcel front range customers runs north-south on the eastern edge of the Boulder area. After separation, the Boulder System will continue to be part of the integrated transmission system and not directly assigned.
Distribution System and Substations
The distribution system in the Boulder area originates from six substations that convert the voltage from transmission levels to distribution levels. Three of the substations are connected to the 115kV loop and three are connected to the 230kV system.
The CPUC requirement that the existing system be separated into two separately operating systems will mandate connection to the transmission system in accordance with Xcel’s open access transmission tariff. It is anticipated that interconnection will entail the construction of two new substations adjacent to existing substations and a third adjacent to other industrial infrastructure and acquisition of facilities in the other three.
Primarily, after separation, the area will be served by the same substations, but the municipal load will be reconfigured so that some substations serve more load than they do today and others less. Three of the reconfigured substations will serve only Boulder customers at distribution voltages. The remaining substations will serve distribution load to Boulder customers from the new substations to be constructed.
The Boulder system has developed since 1910 when the first substation was built (Boulder Terminal). That substation was refurbished in 1976. Substations were then added in 1968, (NCAR), in the 1970’s 2 more substations were added (Leggett and Niwot), 1982 (Sunshine) and Gunbarrel in 1990.
According to statements by Xcel in 2017, there have been no significant capital improvements by Xcel to the distribution system since 2011. Approximately 60% of the system is original equipment. The existing facilities divided by decade result in 8.8% of the facilities being 70 years old, 62.4% of the facilities being 60 years old, 10% of the facilities being 50 years old, 15.9% of the facilities being 40 years old, 1.6 % of facilities being 30 years old, 1.1% of the facilities being 20 years old and 0.2% of the facilities being close to 10 years old.
The city has been officially exploring municipalization since 2010 when the franchise agreement between the city and Xcel Energy expired. Here are some of the key milestones:
2010: Boulder decides not to renew 20-year contract with Xcel Energy.
2011: Voters fund evaluation of, and set requirements for, a clean energy utility.
2013: Third-party evaluation confirms city can meet requirements.
2014: City creates transition plan for operating local utility; begins legal process in district court.
2015: Boulder starts regulatory process a Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
April 2017: City Council rejects two settlement proposals from Xcel Energy.
July and August 2017: City’s completes nine-day hearing at the PUC.
September 2017: PUC issues ruling on city's application, requires city and Xcel to reach agreement on key issues.
November 2017: Voters approve extended funding for municipalization.
December 2018: Council approves moving forward with process to acquire Xcel Energy's assets.
June 2019: After good-faith negotiations, the city moves to condemn Xcel Energy assets in Boulder District Court.
September 2019: Boulder District Court dismisses city's condemnation case, citing incomplete PUC process.
October 2019: Regulators grant Boulder unconditional approval to transfer Xcel assets, completing PUC process
1. 2010 Utility Occupation Tax, passed by Boulder voters.
2. 2011 Ballot Measures 2B and 2C passed by voters to research and fund creation of a local electric utility.
3. 2013 Ballot Measure 2E passed by voters, refined acquisition costs and specified representation for out-of-city customers. 310, an Xcel-backed 2013 measure was defeated.
4. 2014 Ballot Measure 2B passed by voters, allowing city council to hold private executive sessions to discuss legal advice for creation of a local electric utility through 2017. Voters did not approve an extension of this provision in the November 2017 election.
5. 2017 Ballot Measure 2L passed by voters, extending funding for municipalization through the Utility Occupation Tax.
6. 2017 Ballot Measure 2O, passed by voters, guarantees another resident vote prior to issuing debt to create the electric utility.
In 2017, Boulder voters approved a measure that requires a final election to determine whether the city creates a Local Power utility. The city is working to provide City Council and voters with key details prior to this election.
On December 10, City Council will discuss the timing of this vote, which could occur as soon as November 2020.
The areas of the city's work include:
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