Colorado regulators expand oversight of Xcel’s Boulder smart-grid project |

Colorado regulators expand oversight of Xcel’s Boulder smart-grid project

DENVER (AP) – State regulators are getting more involved in Xcel Energy’s smart-grid project in Boulder, now that the utility has started charging customers statewide to cover some of the costs.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has decided that Xcel Energy Inc. needs to seek more approval of the project, which is modernizing the electric grid by going digital.

Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Henley said the utility doesn’t believe it needs a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which regulators require to establish the need for new power lines and facilities. He said the company sees the work in Boulder as improving the distribution system and a normal course of business.

But the commission said Xcel Energy’s original plans didn’t include charging all its customers for the smart-grid project. About $11 million of a recent rate increase will cover some of the project’s costs.

Requiring more input from Xcel Energy will allow regulators to assess the effects on electric rates, said Harry DiDomenico, a rate analyst at the utilities commission.

Xcel Energy has strung 200 miles of fiber-optic cable in Boulder and installed thousands of “smart meters” to give customers more information about their electricity use. The goal is a digital, flexible system that provides better flow and use of electricity.

The company chose Boulder in 2008 as the location for development of a smart-grid city.

Commissioners said their decision in December to expand oversight of the project does not mean they don’t support it.

“We believe that the smart grid concept holds great promise and we wish to encourage innovation and energy efficiency from the utilities we regulate,” the commissioners wrote in their Dec. 24 ruling.

But the commissioners said they were concerned when Xcel Energy sought permission to charge all its Colorado customers for some of the smart grid’s costs. The city of Boulder asked regulators to get more involved.

Xcel Energy estimated the project’s cost at $100 million, with some of the money coming from seven companies working with it. The utility projected its share of the funding at about $15 million, but now believes the cost will reach $42.1 million.

Xcel Energy and the other companies have declined to say what the partners are contributing.

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