Let Colorado Communities choose their own energy sources
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
DAILY CAMERA GUEST OPINION | By Edie Hooton | Boulder Daily Camera
Regardless of what happens with Boulder’s future energy municipalization efforts, it’s sadly obvious that the long, expensive legal battle with Xcel will deter other towns with ambitious renewable energy and climate goals from following our lead. A more general solution for Colorado communities is needed.
The need to address the climate crisis is urgent. Yes, Xcel has committed to 80% clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. But many Colorado communities want to get there faster. A dozen “Ready for 100” cities in Colorado have enacted goals of obtaining 100% renewable energy by 2035 or sooner. In addition, 28 communities, such as Boulder, Aspen, Nederland and Westminster, formed Colorado Communities for Climate Action to advocate for stronger climate policy. These communities, which represent more than 1 million Coloradans, cannot reach their energy and climate goals unless they are given greater control over the energy sources that supply their electricity.
There is ample evidence from the market that we can reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation far faster while keeping electricity prices low. Just one example: Bids received by Xcel in 2017 showed that the prices for wind and solar plus storage are lower than the operating cost of all coal plants currently in Colorado. And the costs for wind, solar and batteries continues to drop by 8-10% per year.
Community demands for cleaner energy, and the low prices of renewable energy, are the reasons why I will introduce a bill in the 2020 legislative session to evaluate an alternative to monopoly utilities called community choice energy. CCE allows communities served by an investor-owned utility (Xcel or Black Hills) to buy their electricity wholesale from alternative suppliers, like solar and wind farms. With CCE, the utility would still own and operate the “poles and wires” and deliver the electricity, while the community gains control over its energy sources and costs.
CCE gives communities the freedom to buy electricity from independent power producers or power marketers, or generate its own. The selected power providers would use existing transmission lines that the utility (Xcel or Black Hills) would continue to own and manage. Customer bills would still come from the utility, but the power would come from an alternative wholesale supplier selected by the nonprofit CCE authority. If an individual doesn’t agree with the community’s choice of power supply, they can opt to stay with the utility’s supply. The idea is to let community choice and competitive market forces help us get to clean power faster, while lowering rates.
CCE also improves local energy security and resilience. It gives communities the ability to design programs for homeowners and businesses that encourage energy efficiency, conservation and installing distributed renewables. It’s a step away from a centralized, top-down, one-way model to a more decentralized, locally controlled energy system.
Eight other states have already enacted CCE. In California, the California Energy Commission projects that by 2025, 85% of that state’s electricity will be provided by CCEs. My initial legislation will help us learn the lessons from other states. It is a prudent study measure to evaluate the financial feasibility and regulatory implications for Colorado. Once we have the details worked out, we will pursue enabling legislation.
We need to answer such questions as: What impact would CCE have on rates for communities that participate and those that don’t? What is the size of the exit fee that participating communities would need to pay to their incumbent utility to keep them and their other customers “whole,” and for how long? What state regulation is needed to ensure free and fair access to the transmission system for communities wanting to procure power through CCE?
It’s clear to me that we can decarbonize our power grid much faster than 80% by 2030, and at a lower cost. We need to recognize the limitations of the way we’ve regulated utilities for the last 100 years and get creative about how we procure power. CCE is a creative and proven alternative to the monopoly model that will give Colorado communities the freedom to choose cleaner, cheaper energy sources.
Edie Hooton, a Boulder resident, represents District 10 in the Colorado House, where she is majority caucus chair and vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Environment.