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Boulder Voters Pass New Franchise With Xcel Energy and Partnership-Funding Measure

Vote halts Boulder’s long-time effort to create a city-run electric utility   

Boulder voters have passed a measure that will enter the city into a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy, according to unofficial results from the Boulder County Clerk’s Office. If the result holds as expected, Boulder will pause its efforts to create a local electric utility and Boulder residents and businesses will remain Xcel customers in a new partnership.     

Voters also passed a funding measure that will supply approximately $2 million in funds for the partnership, re-directing funds that have previously supported municipalization. These funds will support innovative projects and pilot programs aimed at addressing the city’s climate and energy goals. 

“Our efforts to chart a new energy future for Boulder have always been guided by community input and participation,” said Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver. “We appreciate the direction from our voters to enter into a new partnership with Xcel Energy.”   

Development of a franchise and partnership agreement took center stage over the summer, and the possibility of entering a new franchise with Xcel was a much-debated issue in the community. City Council placed the franchise agreement on the ballot in September after months of negotiations and several community town halls. Dozens of supporters and opponents participated in the public hearing leading up to the council vote, and campaigns developed for both sides of the issue during election season.    

“We appreciate the passionate efforts on both sides of this issue and recognize that while many in our community celebrate, others are disappointed,” said Weaver. “I pledge to focus on efforts to unify our community. Climate and energy issues are urgent and difficult to face divided, and I hope that we can come together as a community to face challenges and seize opportunities.”    

City-Xcel partnership will seek to create new pathways to reach the city’s energy future goals 

By passing the franchise agreement, voters also approved a new partnership between the city and Xcel Energy. The partnership agreement seeks to make significant progress on Boulder’s clean energy and climate goals. Under the deal, the city and Xcel Energy will work together in a modern grid planning partnership, aimed at helping the city achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030.   

The community will play a key role in the partnership. The city and Xcel will share information on community involvement as details are determined.    

City’s Local Power project halted  

For more than 10 years, the city has been exploring the creation of a local electric utility in a project called  Local Power.  Voter approval of the franchise with Xcel Energy pauses this work indefinitely, and Boulder residents and businesses will remain customers of Xcel Energy.   

“I am extremely proud of our community’s ambitious efforts to municipalize,” said Weaver. “The tireless efforts of our community have made our energy future much brighter, but our work isn’t over. This partnership has potential to meet the city’s goals and make a broad impact, and we all must make our best efforts to ensure that the partnership delivers on its promise for a more democratic electricity system. We will need to redouble our climate and energy commitments and continue to work towards a cleaner, more reliable, safer and affordable energy system.”   

City enters first franchise with Xcel Energy since 2010  

Before 2011, the city and Xcel Energy had a shared agreement that governed the utility’s use of city streets, public easements and other city-owned property for the purpose of providing electric and natural gas utility service to residents and businesses within the city. In 2010, Boulder voters allowed this agreement, called a franchise agreement, to expire. Since 2011, the city and Xcel Energy have operated without a franchise agreement.   

In this election, voters approved a measure that will enter the city and Xcel Energy into a new, 20-year franchise agreement with six potential exits from the agreement during this term. This franchise agreement must be approved by state regulators. The city expects the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to weigh in in early 2021.    

Franchise allows opt-outs starting in 2023   

The franchise agreement includes unique terms that give the city additional opportunities to end the franchise agreement early under certain conditions. The city could opt-out of the franchise in 2022, 2024 and 2028 if Xcel Energy fails to meet certain emission benchmarks, and could also opt-out in 2026, 2031 and 2036 for any reason. An opt-out would require a six-person vote of City Council or a majority vote of Boulder voters.   

If the city opted out of the franchise, it could re-initiate the process to create a local electric utility, building on much of the progress made to date, or explore other options that may arise in the future, like buying electricity directly from solar and wind farms.   

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Posted Nov. 4, 2020

Media Contacts 

Emily Sandoval, 970-210-1225