Community

Boulder municipalization efforts advance with PUC order

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Oct. 10 granted the City of Boulder, Colo., approval to transfer some assets necessary for Boulder to create a community-owned, city-run electric utility. The decision ends a multi-year process before the commission that began in 2015.

The PUC’s approval is a key step in Boulder’s Local Power project, the city noted. Boulder’s Local Power project is the city's effort to bring clean, local, affordable and reliable electricity to the community by developing a community-owned local electric utility. 

In a future election, Boulder voters will determine whether the city will ultimately create a local electric utility. Prior to this vote, the city’s work is focused on identifying key costs. One of these is the cost to acquire parts of the existing electric system from investor-owned Xcel Energy.

The Oct. 10 ruling clarifies what the city will seek to acquire through condemnation, the process that will determine the acquisition cost.

The city, through the ruling, has gained approval for the transfer of assets outside substations. In September, the commission issued an order that defines the process to transfer assets inside substations. This process, which will not involve the PUC, requires an agreement or agreements between the city and Xcel Energy.

Court ruling

In January 2015, the Boulder District Court ruled that the City of Boulder must seek approval from the PUC prior to condemning electric infrastructure owned by Xcel Energy.

The city filed its first application for the transfer of assets in July 2015 at the PUC. The city filed its third and final transfer of assets application in May 2017. This application was the subject of an eight-day hearing in July and August 2017.

In September 2017, the PUC issued a 90-page decision granting in part and denying in part the city’s application and conditionally approving the transfer of assets.

Since September 2017, the city and Xcel Energy have worked to complete the conditions set forth in the ruling. These conditions relate to the list of assets for transfer, the list of property rights that Xcel would retain and an agreement to protect Xcel ratepayers from the costs of municipalization.

The PUC deemed that the city had satisfied these conditions.

A final order from the commission is expected in the coming days, the city noted.

A growing trend towards municipalization

There has been a growing trend across the U.S. to explore or actively pursue the formation of public power utilities.

In Colorado, along with Boulder, the City of Pueblo is pursuing an effort to municipalize its utility system.

In California, the City of San Francisco recently made a $2.5 billion offer to purchase substantially all of Pacific Gas & Electric’s distribution and transmission assets needed to provide retail electric service to all electricity customers in the city.

In Maine, the governor in July signed legislation directing the state’s Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the creation of a consumer-owned electric utility that would take over the functions of the state’s existing investor-owned utilities.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio over the summer raised the idea of municipalizing investor-owned Con Ed in the wake of power outages in the city.

And in Chicago a proposal was submitted in July in the city council that calls for study on the feasibility of a municipal takeover of Commonwealth Edison’s infrastructure in Chicago.

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