Jerry Kopel

July 14, 2006

By Jerry Kopel

Xcel Energy is running scared, and that is probably the best way for it to win approval in the August 8th primary election.
In case you haven't heard, Xcel Energy's gas and electricity franchise expires Dec. 31, 2006 and it has reached agreement with the city for a new franchise to last twenty years, but which has to be approved by Denver's voters.
At an ordinary time, the franchise approval would be a done deal since Denver, unlike Colorado Springs, doesn't own the public utility and cannot afford to take it over.
But this is no ordinary election. The Public Utilities Commission, a body composed of two Republicans and one Democrat, all quite conservative fellows, released a 128 page report in July blaming Xcel Energy for the power failure to 371,000 Colorado customers on an extremely cold (13 degrees below zero) February 18th.
The PUC issued recommendations on how Xcel could avoid a future collapse and some changes have already been made, but Xcel, according to a Denver Post report, continues to defend what happened, quoting Xcel spokesman Tom Henley:
"Based on what we knew at the time, we feel that we acted appropriately. That being said, we take it very seriously..."
The smarter approach would have been to state "yes, we screwed up, and it won't happen again."
At the time this column was written, Xcel had already mailed four pieces of literature to Denver households. At least one statement was both "accurate" and "incomplete".
"Denver will receive an additional $2 million each year in franchise fees which when leveraged with federal and state energy assistance funds, provides more overall energy assistance to Denver's seniors and low-income families."
The ad fails to mention it is YOUR money that is being used for this purpose and has no bearing on Xcel profits. You presently have an exemption of the franchise fee's first $12.50 each for gas and electric users. The new franchise agreement ends that exemption.
You are billed for a larger amount and Xcel acts as the conduit to pass the money on to the city. It may not be a large sum for each user, but the failure to mention it is YOUR money draws suspicion to other ad claims.
The mayor has promised to use the extra $2 million per year for low-income energy assistance programs. But any economic crisis might require a future  mayor (after Hickenlooper's  third term) to use the money elsewhere.
The May 22d public hearing before city council on the franchise agreement was supposed to begin at 5:30 p.m. according to the Sierra Club push for volunteers to make phone calls for a turnout in favor of the franchise. It began MANY hours later, with only 16 persons remaining for the hearing which included city officials, recipients of the energy assistance payments and organizations that supervise such pay outs. Comments were limited to "brief" except ion response to questions from council.
If the vote is "no" on ballot issue 1A, the franchise will be on the ballot again in November. In the meantime, perhaps the mayor will be able to "persuade" Xcel that a ten year contract will sell better than a 20-year contract. The 20 years is the MOST a franchise can receive under the city charter.
Why is Xcel so anxious to get the franchise approved by bringing it up in August? The PUC will be holding hearings probably in September at which a large number of opponents will challenge Xcel's obtaining a rate hike for electric power to be paid by you.
That will be bad publicity for a franchise approval in November, and may actually result in Xcel reducing the "average" rate hike sought of $78.24 per year. 
                                                   * * *
My prediction in the Statesman column July  7th about Colorado's standing in regard to prison population, has proven to be too optimistic. The Sourcebook for 2006 published by Governing Magazine which in turn is published by Congressional Quarterly has arrived.
Colorado's share of prison population went from 19,756 for 25th  place in 2004 to 20,841 in 2005 and pretty much a tie with Mississippi for 23rd place (a 15 person difference between the two states). We also had the seventh highest percentage increase (5.5) in the nation.
And we went from 429 prisoners per 100,000 population serving a sentence of more than one year to 447 per 100,000 which places us  17th in the nation, a jump from 19th.
The legislature really needs to reform the sentencing structure or increase alternatives to prison during the 2007 legislature.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 tears in the Colorado House.)

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