Category Archives: Politics

Xcel’s Ballooning SmartGrid Costs Get Partly Deflated at the PUC

Submitted by amyguinan

When implementation of Boulder’s SmartGrid City began in 2008, it was one of the first and most comprehensive experiments in the nation with smart-grid technology, which uses computers to manage electricity distribution and allows for communication between utilites and consumers.  At the time, the total cost for SmartGrid implementation was estimated at $100 million and Xcel’s share at $15.3 million. The remainder would be paid by companies partnering in the pilot.

By last year, however, Xcel’s share had ballooned to $44.5 million.

In an unexpected move in January, The Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission ruled Xcel could include only two-thirds of the $44.5 million cost of the smart-grid test in its rate base. The remaining $16.6 million will be off limits until Xcel can show the Boulder-based project’s benefits to Colorado ratepayers, the commission said.

“I’m struggling with how quickly those costs have escalated,” said PUC commissioner James Tarpey. Tarpey noted in testimony that an Xcel official had said that if there had been a cap on expenses, the utility would not have conducted the pilot. The message, Tarpey said, was: “Yeah, we really want to do it, but not with our money.”

For more information, see Mark Jaffe’s Denver Post article, here: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_17021599

Update–Windsource Transparent Recalculation Postponed

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom on December 28, 2010 – 12:50am

Many supporters of Clean Energy Action are subscribers to Xcel’s “Windsource” program. In recent years, the “Windsource” program has been modified to include not just  wind but also solar and other clean energy sources that are used to meet Xcel’s Renewable Energy Portfolio standard under Colorado law. Consequently, the quotations around the “Windsource” name reflect that “Windsource” can also be providing solar or other non-wind clean energy sources.

The cost of Windsource is approximately $2 per 100 kwh–or about 2 cents/kwh. This is close to a 20% bill impact (on a 10 cent/kwh) charge while Xcel is meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard with less than a 2% bill impact, as called for in Colorado law. The reason why Windsource has a 20% bill impact while meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard has only a 2% rate impact are unclear.

In Docket 09A-772E I worked hard to understand how the Windsource premium was calculated. Despite numerous questions (called “Discovery Requests”) to Xcel and many days of hearing and cross-examination, the basis for the $2 per 100 kwh charge was still completely unclear.

Both the Administrative Law Judge and the full Public Utility Commission agreed that the “Windsource” calculation was not clear and in two separate decisions Xcel was directed to recalculate the “Windsource” premium as part of its 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing.

After the issuance of these decisions calling for Xcel to recalculate the “Windsource” premium, Xcel asked the Commission to excuse it from filing a 2011 Renewable Energy Standard plan and the Commission granted Xcel’s request. As a result, the recalculation of the “Windsource” premium in a transparent fashion has again been postponed until at least Xcel’s 2012 Renewable Energy Standard filing expected in May 2011 with testimony and hearings expected to last through much of 2011.

Xcel was directed to make a “compliance” filing of the Windsource calculation, which it did on December 14, 2010 and that filing is attached. Once again, the numbers in Attachment B of this compliance filing are completely unclear–particularly Columns 2 and 3 which are the incremental costs and the incremental GWh (Gigawatt hours) for the Windsource program–but which do not have any supporting spreadsheets or calculations.

Xcel’s compliance filing from December 14, 2010 shows (on Attachment B) that the Windsource premium should be about $1.86 per 100 kwh (instead of the $2.12 per 100 kwh that is being charged) but since the difference between the two rates is less than 20%, Xcel does not have to make a change to its “Windsource” premium.

The key decisions in the 09A-772E docket are attached and the key “Windsource” provisions are summarized below. All documents in the 09A-772E docket can be found by searching the PUC website for the 09A-772E docket number and specifying that it is for the electric industry.

Recommended Decision R10-0586 (June 11, 2010)–See Paragraph 135 on page 32 for the Adminstrative Law Judge’s decision that Xcel should recalculate the Windsource premium.

Decision C10-1033 (September 23, 2010)–See Paragraph 12 on page 5 and Paragraph 43 on page 14 for the full Commission’s decision requiring Xcel to “clearly explain how the Windsource premium is calculated”  in the 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing.

Decision C10-1221 (November 10, 2010)–See Paragraphs 8-11 on pages 3-4 allowing Xcel to not submit a 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing and allowing Xcel to recalculate the “Windsource” premium in a “compliance filing.” Compliance filings are not typically subject to questioning or cross-examination.

At this time it appears that it will likely be late 2011 before the Commission will once again rule on whether the “Windsource” premium has been calculated in a transparent and proper fashion.

[The CEA website is having problems with file attachments. Please contact Clean Energy Action or Leslie Glustrom if you would like the documents discussed in this blog. Thank you.]

Limits on what Xcel can charge customers for Boulder Smart Grid

Submitted by Lili Francklyn on November 10, 2010 – 6:34pm

Under the settlement Xcel would be entitled to full cost recovery from 1.4 million ratepayers across Colorado – not exceeding $44.5 million.

The utility’s SmartGridCity, originally estimated at roughly $15 million – and not to be incurred by Boulder ratepayers – has seen costs rise to more than $44.5 million since its 2007 inception.

If no protests are lodged within 20 days, the PUC will adopt the recommendation and pass the cost of Xcel’s SmartGridCity onto ratepayers.  Email the PUC with protests or complaints;
pucconsumer.complaints@dora.state.co.us

Continued Reliance on Coal Will Lead to Higher Utility Bills

Submitted by Amy Guinan on November 4, 2010

With growing foreign demand, diminishing “economically-feasible” coal reserves, and rising mining costs, since October of 2009, the price for a one- month contract for Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal, a main Colorado supplier, has risen 67 percent to $13.80 a ton.  Powder River Basin coal has historically been priced at $5 a ton.

With almost 60 percent of Colorado’s electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, the increasing cost of coal will likely continue to be reflected in rate-payers electricity bills.  Xcel Energy, for instance, has had three rate increases in the last 4 years in part to pay for construction of the utilities’ newest coal-fired power plant, Unit III, in Pueblo, CO.

And current electricity prices don’t take into account the impact of possible legislation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide at the federal and state level. “Legislation that’s now stalled in Congress could have placed up to a $17 charge on a ton of carbon emissions. Burning a ton of coal creates about 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide.”

For more information, visit the CEA Coal Supply Constraints Report: Coal_Supply_Constraints_CEA and the Denver Post article on rising coal costs.

Boulder’s SmartGridCity: A Meltdown?

Boulder was chosen as Xcel’s SmartGridCity and implementation of the project began in 2008.  As the SmartGrid project unfolds, though, considerable challenges and cost-increases are being encountered and citizens are wondering if the SmartGridCity is, in fact, a meltdown.

Key points pulled from filings to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission regarding Xcel’s request for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) resulted in the compilation of the following points and allegations related to Xcel’s Smart Grid:

— Xcel didn’t file a CPCN before the project started in 2008 because they didn’t think they needed to for what they deemed a research project.

–Without a CPCN there was no opportunity for the PUC or other interested parties to consider capping costs to protect ratepayers

–A traditional cost-benefit analysis wasn’t performed prior commencing the project

–The original $15.3 million project estimate soared to $27.9 million and at last report to $44.8 million due to higher costs of permits, tree trimming, software and negotiations; and to the amount of rock they had to drill through for fiber optic lines.

–Several key Xcel project executives left early last year

–Xcel asked the PUC last year to OK a rate increase to recoup some of its project costs. That’s when the commission decided Xcel needed a CPCN to prove the project is prudent and in the public interest

–As the project nears completion, only 43% of Boulder residents have smart meters, which the company says allows a side-by-side comparison

–The metering system is not providing as many in-home benefits anticipated as part of a Smart Grid program