News, Analysis and Opinion for the Informed Boulder Resident
Tuesday March 28th 2023

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That's what she said

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Partnering with Xcel


photo courtesy Roger Wolvington

As Boulder considers the Xcel franchise agreement it is important to look at their past record and attitude. Consider Boulder’s Carbon Action Program. While Xcel offers a range of energy efficiency programs they are primarily concerned with the continued operation of their coal fired power plants. This is made clear by their policy regarding outdoor lighting. Xcel does not offer rebates for energy efficient outdoor lighting because these lights are on at night. While it is clear that we should be doing all we can to reduce carbon emissions at night as well as in the day time it is in the financial interests of the operator of a coal fired power plant to encourage wasteful energy practices especially at night, Coal power plants cannot be turned off when there is reduced energy use so utilities encourage wasteful energy habits especially at night. Xcel is not going to be a proactive partner in the effort to reform our energy use patterns.


When Boulder first began to examine the question of the municipalization of our electric energy system Xcel offered a very tempting prize. Xcel would make Boulder Smart Grid City. They were going to spend $100 million making Boulder the showcase of the nation in smart energy use and the development of infrastructure for the introduction of electric vehicles. The use of electric vehicles is crucial for the reduction of our carbon footprint. An electric vehicle can be up to 10 times as efficient as a gasoline powered vehicle and if it is recharged with wind power or solar energy it is a zero emission option for personal mobility. Smart grid allows for several improvements that will help with the transition to clean electric transportation including time of use charging, power tagging and vehicle-to-grid storage of renewable energy.

A Missed Opportunity

Recently representatives of the Chinese car manufacturer BYD were in Boulder. Warren Buffet is a partner in this cleantech company. BYD indicated that if Boulder had an aggressive smart grid program they would be proactive partners in showcasing the benefits of electric vehicles. Unfortunately Xcel’s Smart Grid program has been a bust. Not only have they failed to implement the technology, they spent only $40 million – not the $100 million they promised – and they are trying to get the PUC to let them pass those costs back to their customers in Boulder. Xcel has cost Boulder a key opportunity in reducing our carbon use.

Bad Attitude

Utilities encourage the growth of energy use over efficiency. In a recent article by the Rocky Mountain Institute it was pointed out that if all the utilities in the country were to simply adopt the efficiency standards of California it would reduce our nation’s coal fired power use, the major contributor to our carbon footprint, by 60%. A recent article in the Camera by Steve Pomerance shows that there is a level of corporate arrogance that is unacceptable in any business, much less a utility, that is granted a monopoly. Their inside joke is that since they get a guaranteed return on their investments and are given guaranteed long term contracts, such as the one with Boulder, they see all their new power plants as simply another “billion dollar block of concrete.”  They don’t care if the new power plant is a clean renewable technology or even if it is needed. They can always encourage more wasteful energy use by their customers. They simply are happy to burden people with more debt. Xcel is not the proactive partner that we need to move to an efficient and carbon free energy economy.

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