With a municipalization vote scheduled for Tuesday in Boulder, CO, and the state’s economy lagging, Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke told financial analysts on a third quarter conference call Thursday that Colorado’s largest utility operator is not concerned about a wider push for public power, although he identified Colorado as one of two states that worry him in terms of the current pace of economic recovery.
Earnings for 3Q2011 were $338 million (69 cents/share), compared with $312 million (67 cents/share) for in 3Q2010.
Boulder residents are slated to vote on whether to create a municipal electric utility in their city — once designated by Xcel’s Colorado combination natural gas and electric utility as a “smart grid city.” The effort to create a city-owned utility appears to be driven in large part by a desire for cleaner, more renewable sources of energy, although last year Colorado officials and Minneapolis-based Xcel agreed on a “clean energy, clean jobs” initiative designed to clean up its power generation operations.
State regulators late last year gave the green light to a final piece of Xcel’s sweeping coal-to-gas switch for several power plants (see Daily GPI, Dec. 13, 2010). The utility will receive accelerated cost recovery for its investments. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission made its decision about how Xcel should comply with Colorado’s Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which targets close to 903 MW of coal-fired power plants in the Denver area.
Nevertheless, Boulder last year decided against renewing a 20-year franchise for Xcel’s Public Service of Colorado utility, and this past July the city council voted to proceed with the effort to form a municipal utility. That council’s vote came after what the Boulder Daily Camera called “a year of intense debate and public outreach on a scale that has rivaled any policy issue Boulder has tackled in the last decade.”
Fowke said Boulder has a history of “wanting to municipalize,” so he doesn’t think the city’s latest actions are indicative of a broader movement in Colorado. “We have reiterated that we want to continue to serve Boulder,” he said, adding that Tuesday brought a major snow storm through state, and Xcel had extra crews brought into the Boulder area the day before to work on the thousands of outages that were anticipated.
“The storm impacted Boulder, but I think it is another example of the service we provide; we had crews ready and available the night before the snow storm. We do a good job of providing reliable and clean energy, and I sure hope the voters in Boulder see it that way, too,” Fowke said.
However, he also said if the voters approve setting up a muni, Xcel will work with the city “to figure out a fair price” so the rest of the customers in Colorado are not disadvantaged.”
In response to a question about which states the CEO has the greatest concerns about in terms of their current economies, Fowke said only two, but they are the utility holding company’s two largest — Colorado and Minnesota.
“The state’s in which we are seeing the flattest sales are those two, which happen to be our two largest,” Fowke said. “We’re seeing very robust growth in Texas and Wisconsin as well, but you have to keep in mind that when the recession hit, we were much less impacted than other areas of the country, so we’re not seeing the rebound, we’re continuing to see sluggish and flat sales, but we weren’t hurt as bad as others to begin with.”
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