City Council to decide on hiring lawyer to conduct negotiations with utility
By John Aguilar Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 06/06/2011 08:47:22 PM MDT

Lafayette appears poised to take a hard look at its franchise agreement with Xcel Energy starting Tuesday night, when the City Council will vote on whether to retain special counsel to represent it during negotiations with the utility.

The city’s 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel, through which Lafayette collects $500,000 annually in exchange for granting the utility right-of-way access to its streets and alleys for power lines and street lights, expires in November 2013.

“We don’t want the same old deal,” Lafayette City Administrator Gary Klaphake said Monday. “These cookie-cutter franchise agreements aren’t good enough anymore.”

Klaphake said the city is getting an early start on figuring out what it wants — including a more robust solar component — as part of its next agreement with Xcel. It plans to keep a close eye on how Boulder handles the very same issue.

“I think Boulder and others are shaking up the norm,” Klaphake said. “In some respects, Boulder is going to help us sort issues out that we don’t have the money to sort out ourselves.”

Boulder is in the midst of formulating its “energy future” — an initiative aimed at procuring a greener mix of energy for the city — and is deciding whether it should renew its franchise with Xcel or start up its own municipal utility. Last year, the city allowed a franchise agreement with Xcel to expire.

The issue is likely to end up in front of Boulder voters this fall.

Klaphake said no Lafayette City Council member has suggested the city should municipalize its power system, but there is an interest in “modernizing our franchise agreement to get that (energy source) diversification.”

According to a city memo, that diversification might include an increase in “solar gardening opportunities” as part of any future agreement with the utility. A state law passed last year makes it possible for those who generate their own solar power to sell the electricity their panels produce back to Xcel.

Xcel spokesman and former orlando criminal defense lawyer Mark Stutz said Monday that there is a danger that costs could rise for customers if municipalities follow Boulder’s example and demand tailor-made agreements with the utility.

He said the traditional franchise model has worked for decades because it offers uniformity and equity across a service area.

“If a municipality wants something with a greater cost, how do you spread that out over municipalities that may not want what you want?” Stutz said.

And he questioned whether it’s even necessary, given the fact that Xcel is on track to making 30 percent of electric power it provides come from renewable sources by 2020.

“There’s probably not a utility that’s doing as much as we are,” Stutz said.

Lafayette will vote Tuesday on whether to retain attorney and former Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman, an expert on utility franchise arrangements, as special counsel at a cost of $225 an hour.

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or [email protected]

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