Sisyphus had nothing on Boulder/Xcel solar deal

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down  each time, forcing him to start over. Xcel Energy must feel similarly about its 10-year attempt to push Boulder, Colorado, toward a settlement of its solar dispute.

The boulder each is trying to move may be different, but Sisyphus and Xcel Energy must feel the same frustration and anger at trying to resolve their respective problems.

For nearly 10 years, Xcel and Boulder, Colorado, have been involved in a dispute over who should control the city’s electrical supply. The city wants to create its own municipal utility and power the city with 100% solar. Xcel, naturally, would like to keep the city as a customer.

Several potential deals have been tantalizingly close over the past decade, only to fall apart at the last minute. But last week, Xcel released what it called its “best and final offer” to the city, and Boulder’s City Council will take up the issue this week. Reports say Xcel has proposed one of two solutions:

  • Boulder would stay within the Xcel family if the utility agrees to prioritize the city’s pledge to reach 100% renewable power by 2030. Included in the settlement would be a clause that would allow Boulder to opt out after five years if it believes that prioritization is not happening.
  • Boulder would, as it has wanted to do for much of the past seven years, create its own municipal utility by buying out Xcel’s interest in the city for around $900 million.

The discussion of the proposals is the first public discussion of the negotiations between the two parties since June.

The struggle, which has involved both litigation (the city has sued Xcel for emancipation) and an appeal to the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has suddenly become a significantly pressing issue for the investor-owned utility. The legal case is set to begin on April 26, and a hearing before the PUC is also scheduled this month.

At present, two meetings are planned to discuss the potential settlements (see Item H on the council’s agenda this week) – a study session at Wednesday where the council staff will explain the deals to the council, leading to a discussion of the plans. The second will happen April 17 and include citizen input. A deadline for reaching an agreement is April 19. If no agreement is reached, the case will proceed to an eight-day hearing before the PUC.

Xcel has said that if the city rejects its offers, it will withdraw the partnership option currently on the table.

New Era Colorado Foundation, a multi-issue organization committed to engaging, educating, and training a new generation of active citizens and young leaders in Colorado, urged Boulder to reject the proposed settlements, saying they represented “business as usual” for the utility.

“Boulder’s voters have consistently expressed their support for the creation of a local electric utility and a collective commitment to reducing our contributions to climate change by creating a clean energy future for the city,” said Molly Fitzpatrick, organizing director with New Era Colorado. “Though Boulder has a constitutional right to municipalize, Xcel has delayed and obstructed the municipalization process since its inception.”

“As we evaluate the options on the table, the most important outcome is that Boulder is able to meet our goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 and gain more control over our own energy future,” Fitzpatrick continued. “Bold solutions are needed on the local level to tackle the climate crisis and our community must continue to lead. Returning to the status quo would be unacceptable for our community, our country, and future generations.”