Muni 101: A Glossary

Photo by Murat Onder on Unsplash

Xcel = Xcel Energy, a publicly traded utility company based in Minnesota

PSCo = Public Service Company of Colorado, the Xcel Energy subsidiary that serves customers in Colorado

Muni = A utility that would be owned by the city of Boulder. Shorthand for municipalization, which is the process of establishing a city-owned utility by acquiring the power lines, poles, transformers, substations, etc. that are currently owned by Xcel and used to transmit electricity

Local Power = What the city of Boulder calls the muni

FERC = Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal regulating body for energy (the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas, the transportation of oil via pipeline) 

PUC = Public Utilities Commission, Colorado’s regulatory body for utilities such as water and electricity. They have to approve Xcel’s rates and plans, our franchise agreement with Xcel and some conditions related to the settlement.

Undergrounding = Burying power lines underground. This reduces outages, which are often caused by trees, etc. falling on lines or the lines being blown over during wind/storms

Substation = Where voltage is transformed from high to low (or vice versa) for transmission onto nearby lines 

UOT = Utility Occupation Tax. The first part was initially passed in 2010 by voters, to replace the Xcel franchise fee that goes into Boulder’s general fund. The second part was passed in 2011, to fund exploration of the muni. Both parts have been extended through 2022.

Franchise = A legal agreement between a power provider and customer (in this case, Xcel and Boulder) governing the terms of service and other aspects of the relationship under which Xcel will provide electricity to Boulder

Acquisition = The process of taking over Xcel’s physical system. Technically, Boulder would buy it. But because Xcel doesn’t want to sell it, Boulder will have to condemn the assets in court. That process would determine how much the city has to pay Xcel.

Stranded costs = If Boulder splits from Xcel, the company will have extra power on its hands that it intended for the city, plus investments into equipment and facilities to generate and deliver it. These are referred to as stranded costs, and a court/FERC will determine how much they are. There are ways to reduce stranded costs, but there may be some amount left over that Boulder has to pay.

Going concern = Similar to stranded costs, this is the amount that Boulder could owe Xcel for future profits that are lost by no longer having Boulder as a customer. Unlike stranded costs, it’s not definite that Boulder will owe these.

Generation = The process of producing electricity from a source (fossil fuels like coal, or renewable sources like wind, solar, hydro, etc.)

Transmission = Moving electricity from a generating site (like a power plant, wind turbine or solar panel) to a substation. The lines that move electricity are known as a transmission network.

Distribution = The final stage of delivering electricity to homes and businesses

Greenhouse gases = Gases that trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change. So named because they work the way greenhouses do: Letting sunlight in (and out) but keeping in the heat that sunlight brings. The primary GHG are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons.

Emissions = In this context, the GHG that are released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Published Friday, Sept. 11, 2020

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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Municipalization

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Shay,

    Thank you for providing this very helpful glossary of terms, and for all of your coverage on this complex matter. I feel much more qualified in knowing what the issues are now, thanks to your reporting.

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