Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pueblo's Energy Future coalition holds municipal energy town halls

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 10:22 AM

click to enlarge Xcel's Comanche Generating Station. - TYLER GRIMES
  • Tyler Grimes
  • Xcel's Comanche Generating Station.

Pueblo's Energy Future coalition
 is hosting a series of town hall meetings to engage and inform citizens on a proposed transition to municipal utility. The meetings, which began in January, follow a September City Council resolution stating Pueblo's intent to end a franchise agreement with Black Hills Energy.

"We take this seriously and we're committed to trying to make things better in Pueblo," says Energy Future's Steve Andrews. He says, Pueblo's Energy Future has met weekly for the past six years working toward more affordable and sustainable energy.

The most recent town hall took place June 26 at Rawlings Library and drew 115 attendees. Dan Hodges, Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities's executive director, presented on Colorado's municipal utilities.

According to the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities, there are 2000 community-owned electric utilities nationally, serving 49 million people or 14 percent of the population. Among the largest are Los Angeles, San Antonio, Seattle and Orlando. In Colorado, 29 municipal utilities serve 17 percent of energy demand, including in Colorado Springs. Public power communities are not-for-profit, have an average 10 percent lower costs than investor-owned utilities and are more reliable, the association says. An elected board makes policy and operational decisions in the best interest of the municipal utilities and the communities they serve. But a community-owned utility does not necessarily mean energy generation. Most buy power through long-term contracts with power authorities, or from wholesale suppliers on the open market.

Pueblo is looking to break free from its current, investor-owned utility, Black Hills Energy. The catalysts for the change are increasing electric prices in Pueblo and a desire for cleaner energy among city council. Pueblo's electricity bills have increased 40 percent or more over the past five years and are now the highest among the 20 largest cities in Colorado, according to coloradopolitics.com. And according to the Denver Post, a change to municipal energy would lower costs of electricity and further the Ready for 100% initiative, a resolution passed by Pueblo City Council in February of last year to become 100 percent powered by renewable by 2035. Andrews calls the resolution at this time, "an aspirational effort without a plan."

As for becoming a municipal utility, Pueblo's Energy Future works closely with the Pueblo Electric Utility Commission, a group of government officials and citizen representatives tasked with overseeing Pueblo's feasibility study to end its agreement with Black Hills. The closest possible date to "divorce" from Blacks Hills Energy would be August 10, 2020. Andrews, a retired energy consultant, says a state statute that allows municipalities to leave franchise agreements requires doing so in years 10, 15, or 20 of the agreement. The agreement with Black Hills began in 2010.

A public vote to withdraw from Black Hills could come by November 2019, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. The biggest challenge to withdrawing will be the expense. In March, the paper reported Black Hills refused a $1.1 billion offer from San Isabel Electric Association for the purchase of all assets. The major expenses β€” purchasing and distributing electricity β€” would begin once the City applies to the Colorado Public Utility Commission to establish its own utility and begins condemning Black Hills assets, such as transmission lines and distribution network.

The next municipal energy town hall is scheduled for July 24 at 5:30PM at Pueblo County Emergency Services Center. Benoit Allehaut of Capital Dynamics, a firm that invests in municipal utilities, will speak will address the "big money issues," such as purchasing the distribution system, cheaper wholesale energy, and funding the breakaway.
click to enlarge Xcel's Comanche Generating Station. - TYLER GRIMES
  • Tyler Grimes
  • Xcel's Comanche Generating Station.

Each of Pueblo's Energy Future town halls includes an update of a separate but related issue, Xcel Energy's Colorado Energy Plan. Xcel's Plan would lead to Colorado's energy mix from 29 percent to 55 percent renewables by 2026. For more on that story see this Chieftain article, or this story on the Utility Dive. Andrews says the plan would lead to "breakthrough pricing."

"Effectively, it will be cheaper to install solar and wind with battery backup than to operate older, coal-fired power plants," he says.

On Tuesday, August 7, Pueblo's Energy Future will host a clean energy and economic growth forum to discuss the Xcel's Colorado Energy Plan's economic impact on Pueblo. The plan would close Comanche 1 and 2 Generating Stations, that provide energy to Denver, by 2025. Both Comanche 1 and 2 would be replaced by solar energy with battery storage according to the plan.

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