City Hires Electric Utility Development Director
Steve Catanach to leverage more than 30 years of electric utility experience to lead the final assessment phase of high-priority community initiative
The City of Boulder today announced that Steve Catanach has been hired as Electric Utility Development Director, effective April 23. In this role, Catanach will lead the city’s continued evaluation and development of a local electric utility. This has been the primary focus of Heather Bailey, who is leaving Boulder on April 27 to work for Austin Energy.
Catanach, currently a consultant supporting the city’s Energy Future team, has worked as an electrical engineer for the past 33 years, 31 of those years in the electric utility industry. Prior to becoming a consultant, Catanach served as the Light and Power Operations Manager for the City of Fort Collins, a successful municipal utility. He managed a staff of 128 employees and was responsible for all the operations—from construction and engineering to meter reading and substation operations—necessary to deliver electricity to the city’s customers.
Catanach also worked previously for the City of Longmont; the City of Las Cruces, New Mexico; and the Arizona Public Service Corporation, the largest electric utility in Arizona. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from New Mexico State University and has been a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Colorado, for over 18 years.
“I am delighted Steve has agreed to take on this important leadership role,” City Manager Jane Brautigam said. “Steve’s wealth of experience in the electric utilities industry and in-depth knowledge of the current city project will help us maintain momentum as we work to prepare the community for a go/no-go vote in 2020. His skills – combined with existing expertise on the staff team assigned to this effort – position the city well to meet the community’s expectations.”
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to help lead this project through perhaps its most critical phase,” said Catanach. “I am honored to continue collaborating with a talented city team and an engaged public. We will work together to prepare for possible separation from Xcel Energy, refine costs and give the community critical information it needs to make an informed decision about whether Boulder should take over the role of providing the community with electricity.” As the city considered options for addressing Bailey’s departure, both community members and staff provided valuable feedback through a series of conversations that culminated in a March 19 listening session. Many comments highlighted the need for expertise in planning and operating an electric utility, an understanding of the utility industry and the local market, as well as strategic thinking, integrity and strong complex-project management skills. Feedback also underscored the importance of a renewed commitment to community engagement, collaboration and partnerships.
In addition to demonstrating these important qualities, Catanach embraces Boulder’s commitment to clean energy. He recognizes that the old-school utility business model, which depends upon selling increasing amounts of electricity – much of it still from coal – is inconsistent with today’s climate realities.
While working in Fort Collins, Catanach was instrumental in the creation of FortZED, an impressive partnership that is helping Fort Collins and other communities in the region support efficient and sustainable energy. This program utilizes many of the opportunities Boulder hopes to support, including microgrids, expanded local generation, collaboration with creative and tech-minded businesses, and a culture of innovation that allows for continuous learning opportunities.
“My experience in Fort Collins reinforced the importance of communities and utilities working together to achieve outcomes that support shared values,” said Catanach. “Boulder leads the way on meaningful climate action – and I understand the significant role a city-operated electric utility would play in achieving its short- and long-term energy goals.”
Late last year, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission ruled the city could move forward with its desire to acquire assets from Xcel Energy and run a local electric utility if it could meet certain conditions that would allow for a complete separation between city-owned and Xcel systems. The commission ordered both sides to reach a series of agreements. While some agreements have been reached , negotiations are ongoing on those related to separation costs.
The next phase of work will include communication and engagement around the possible utility, incorporating recent industry changes, new technologies and innovations to define Boulder's vision for the "utility of the future." It will also include additional engineering and technical analysis, as well as the filing of a condemnation case in state court. It is anticipated this work will result in final numbers that will allow City Council to determine whether the city can move forward with a local electric utility in a way that complies with cost, reliability and renewable energy standards in the city charter. No purchase of assets or separation construction can begin, however, without approval by voters. This vote is expected to occur in 2020.
For more information about the city’s local electric utility strategy and other work designed to help the community meet its energy goals, please visit boulderenergyfuture.com .
Published: March 23, 2018
Ben Irwin, Media Relations, 303-441-3155