Boulder most likely will fall far short of reaching its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 if partnered with Xcel

As we consider a 20-year franchise with an investor-owned utility, it is worth remembering that Xcel is Colorado’s only utility with large, coal-fired power plants set to operate past 2030.* How will Xcel square our carbon goals with their need to deliver profits for shareholders?

One way might be creative accounting for carbon. Xcel’s “80% Carbon Reduction” is not the same as “80% Renewables.” Xcel could claim a “reduction in carbon” by, for example, shifting from coal to gas. We want more renewable energy, not merely the replacement of one fossil fuel for another.

Xcel’s “Path to 2050 Aspiration” includes “natural gas with carbon capture and storage” and “advanced nuclear” (neither of which has been proven at scale). Xcel’s path does not align with Boulder’s goal of 100% renewable energy, nor our expedited timeframe.

The Gap between 70% and 100% Renewables

Bridging the gap between Xcel’s goal of 70% renewable energy and Boulder’s goal of 100% by 2030 is likely to take $10’s of million of capital to build the renewable energy sources necessary to bridge Boulder’s gap, that Xcel would charge to us (plus their profit). This is because any services (renewables, microgrids, etc.) Xcel provides to Boulder that go beyond what Xcel provides to other customers are services that Boulder taxpayers would have to pay for. (State law CRS 40-3-106.) These would cost Boulder taxpayers unknown millions of dollars extra.

To be clear, the Franchise Agreement (para. 14.4) plainly says Xcel does not have to spend a dime on anything that it has a “good faith belief” the PUC will not allow the Company to recover [from the ratepayers]. In other words, Xcel will only spend other people’s money.

What are the Alternatives?

The City’s 2018 Request for Indicative Pricing (RFIP) showed that Boulder could save approximately $40 million per year on energy costs at 89% renewable power by purchasing from vendors other than Xcel. And, even at higher costs, Xcel would be providing only 53% renewables. ( We think this standard – 89% renewables at a cost of 2/3 of Xcel’s wholesale price – should be the one Xcel should meet or beat!

Note, analysis of the City’s July 17, 2020 RFP is underway and could uncover an even better deal.

See the Goldman School of Public Policy at University California Berkeley’s 2035 The Report from GridLab. This report uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving 90% clean (carbon-free) electricity in the United States by 2035

See more about the risks of an Xcel franchise here. And, for more about the cost of the franchise, see The Costs of Staying with Xcel.