By Laura Snider Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 05/10/2011 11:14:41 PM MDT

In the future, Boulder has the potential to power lights, computers and clothes dryers with electricity that’s generated locally.

Possibilities include building a small wind farm near the Barker Reservoir, using the existing natural-gas-fired generators at the Valmont power plant, encouraging more residents to put solar panels on their roofs, and enhancing the city’s existing hydroelectric generating capacity.

Local power generation could also be supported by upgrading the city’s existing smart grid capabilities and retrofitting the system to allow plug-in electric cars to store electricity and feed it back to the grid when necessary.

These are some of the findings from a team of consultants who have been hired by the city to gather the information that the City Council and voters will need to make decisions about the Boulder’s energy future. Preliminary findings from several of the commissioned studies — including one that addresses “energy localization” possibilities within a 10-mile radius of Boulder — were presented to the council Tuesday night at a study session.

Boulder’s franchise agreement with Xcel Energy expired at the end of 2010. Now, the council is considering whether to create a municipal utility.

Councilman Ken Wilson said the idea of putting up wind turbines near Nederland to serve the city is “intriguing,” but there are a number of questions that would need to be answered.

“I’m curious as to what the capacity factor might be,” he said. “Are there problems with intermittency, problems with wind speeds?”

The lion’s share of the data presented to the City Council on Tuesday night came from a draft “energy baseline analysis,” which outlined information about Xcel’s rates, the company’s revenues, its sales in Boulder and the city’s electricity demand over time.

Council members expressed concerns at the study session about how much of the data presented in the draft analysis had to be extrapolated. Xcel Energy has failed to provide Boulder with some of the data that city attorneys requested as early as last October, according to city staffers.

“I felt that (the analysis) was a good start at understanding where we are,” said Mayor Susan Osborne. “It seems as though there was a lot of extrapolating, and I guess I would want to know from our own staff what hope there is in getting true data from Xcel if we haven’t gotten it yet.”

In particular, Xcel has not provided Boulder with information on its actual electric load, or how much electricity is used when. In lieu of that data, consultants have tweaked data provided by Fort Collins on the amount of electricity used by its residents.

Ted Weaver, who worked on the baseline energy analysis, told the City Council that the consultants were using conservative estimates in places where there are holes in the hard data.

The City Council’s 300-page study session packet can be found online at bouldercolorado.gov/energyfuture. In the next month, finalized versions of the analyses provided Tuesday night will be available and new reports will be released, including a business plan for the creation of a municipal utility.

City Council members have said that they are still willing to stick with Xcel Energy, if Xcel can present a proposal that will help them meet their stated goal of providing electricity for residents and businesses that is “increasingly clean and competitively priced.”

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