Boulder, Pueblo, San Francisco pursue city utilities for clean energy, lower costs


Boulder, Colorado’s goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030 is coming into view, as the city council expects it will soon ask a court to set a fair price for purchasing Xcel Energy’s distribution assets in the city (video). Voters in Boulder, northwest of Denver, will then vote on whether to proceed with the purchase.

Pueblo, south of Denver, has completed an engineering and financial feasibility study for a public utility, which found that “there are enough benefits to justify forming a municipal utility” and that the least-cost option would create “more opportunities for renewable energy.”

Meanwhile, San Francisco has offered $2.5 billion to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to form a city electric utility—an offer declined by PG&E.

Boulder: 100% by 2030

Of the three cities, Boulder is the furthest along, as it is prepared to launch a legal proceeding to ask a court to set the price for buying Xcel Energy’s distribution assets in the city—if Xcel does not accept the city’s pending offer of $94 million or make a counter-offer by the end of the year. 

Boulder’s municipalization plan envisions that as the city reaches 100% renewable electricity, that will open up options to electrify transportation and heating, and to power them with renewable electricity as well. The city has also made available its spreadsheet model that it uses to forecast the financial implications of forming a city utility. The model reflects indicative offers from eight wholesale power providers that could meet the city’s renewable energy goals.

The city is pursuing a municipal utility along five tracks:

City council members at the December 10 meeting expected that local control would help the city achieve its ambitious goal of 100% renewables by 2030, and also predicted better grid reliability due to local control.

If a condemnation proceeding is launched, the city expects a court decision 9 to 18 months later, after which Boulder voters would decide whether to form a municipal electric utility.

Pueblo: 10% to 14% savings

Of the three cities, Pueblo has made available the most impressive engineering feasibility study, which found that the city would save consumers 10% to 14% on their electric bills by forming a municipal utility. Those savings reflect the seven indicative pricing responses the city received from wholesale power providers, in response to the city’s request for indicative pricing. 

Pueblo’s Electric Utility Commission, which advises the Mayor and City Council, confidently presented additional results from the 93-page feasibility study prepared by EES Consulting, a firm that provides power engineering and management services. The conclusions refer to the current power provider, Black Hills Energy:

The commission has recommended putting municipalization on the ballot in 2020, to “allow voters to choose to continue service through Black Hills Energy or to create a municipal electric utility.”

The feasibility study advises that if Pueblo proceeds with municipalization, the city should evaluate resource options through an integrated resource planning process.

Pueblo is following a municipalization process outlined by the American Public Power Association.  The association also offers a 50-state guide summarizing state laws on forming a municipal utility, as they stood in 2012.

San Francisco

PG&E in October rejected San Francisco’s $2.5 billion offer, made in September, to purchase grid assets that serve the city. San Francisco’s offer followed its preliminary study of the city’s public power options, published in May. The preliminary study showed that “total power independence” would make it “much less difficult” for the city to reach its goal of 100% carbon neutrality by 2030, wrote Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in a cover letter to the report.

Here’s what San Francisco offered to buy from PG&E for $2.5 billion:

Of the three cities, San Francisco has the largest team of engineering, financial, and legal advisors, backing up that $2.5 billion offer:

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