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Boulder, Colo., voters authorize continued municipalization efforts

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Voters in Boulder, Colo., approved a measure to fund for another three years the city’s long-running effort to form a municipal utility.

Boulder, a city of about 108,000, has been exploring breaking away from Public Service Co. of Colorado, or PSCo, to form its own utility for about six years, partly as a way to get all its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

About 51.7 percent of city voters Nov. 7 approved a tax that will raise $16.5 million over the next three years to continue to pay for the city’s municipalization plans, including legal and engineering costs.

Another measure approved Nov. 7 requires a city-wide vote before Boulder issues any debt to form a public power utility. Voters rejected another measure that would have allowed the Boulder city council to meet in private "executive sessions" to discuss legal issues related to municipalization.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission on September 14 gave a go-ahead to Boulder to acquire PSCo assets within the city limits, except for substations. Boulder estimates that it could cost $110 million to separate from the Xcel Energy subsidiary.

The PUC directed Boulder to file three documents with the commission by December 13, including an agreement giving PSCo property rights needed to serve its customers after the city utility is formed. Boulder must also provide a list of PSCo’s assets it will seek to buy and an agreement on how Boulder will pay PSCo for work needed to form a municipal utility.  After the PUC ruling, Boulder and PSCo entered into talks to reach these agreements.

According to Boulder, initial conversations with PSCo have been “useful and productive.”

If Boulder forms a utility, it could buy electricity from PSCo as a bridge to getting 100 percent renewable power. The city could also enter into power purchase agreements with renewable resources and increase its supply of distributed generation.

Under current plans, Boulder’s municipal utility could start operating in early 2023, according to the city.

Meanwhile, Pueblo, Colorado, is exploring breaking away from Black Hills Energy to form a public power utility.

Pueblo’s city council on Sept. 25 unanimously approved a resolution to terminate its franchise with Black Hills in 2020 and form a public power utility, depending on the outcome of a planned due diligence study. Black Hills Energy is part of investor-owned Black Hills Corp.

Pueblo, with a population of about 110,000, approved its 20-year franchise with Black Hills in 2010. Colorado law allows Pueblo to buy or condemn Black Hills’ electric facilities in the city ten and 15 years after the franchise agreement’s effective date, according to a memo on the resolution prepared by the city.

Colorado has 29 public power utilities.

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