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Boulder Chosen to Showcase Smart-Grid


By Gargi Chakrabarty
RockyMountainNews.co
March 12, 2008


Program lets users check power price, usage in real time

Boulder's carbon footprint is about to get a whole lot smaller.

The environmentally aware college town was picked for Xcel Energy's $100 million
Smart-Grid City program.

The power company will allow Boulder customers to access real-time information
about prices of electricity and consumption levels, with the goal of lowering
energy use and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

"This is one more step toward our original goal to do things to reduce our
carbon footprints and have a smaller impact on the environment," said Dick
Kelly, Xcel's chairman, president and CEO.

Eight cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado made it to the final list, but
Boulder won because of its ideal population size and high number of
technologically savvy customers.

An estimated 85 percent of the city has residential high-speed Internet access,
and 70 percent of the city's residents ages 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree.

In 2006, Boulder showed its green prowess by becoming the first city in the
nation to pass a carbon tax to fight global warming pollution.

Xcel's expenses related to the smart-grid program will be collected through
electric rates it charges customers.

The utility will pay a portion of the program cost, and leverage other sources
including government grants to pay the remainder,

Jim Greenwood, director of Consumer Counsel, said, "It always is a balancing act
between doing good things for the environment and keeping consumers' utility
bills as low as can be."

"Am I in favor of reducing carbon footprints through smart- grids? Absolutely,"
Greenwood said. "At any cost? No."

Xcel is working with a handful of companies to fine-tune the smart-grid
technology, which allows a utility to have a two-way communication with
customers in real time.

In the first phase, scheduled to kick off in August, Xcel customers in Boulder
who volunteer to be part of this project will get better service. For instance,
customers immediately will know when there is a power outage and what caused it.

In the second phase, participating customers will have devices in their homes,
similar to a cable-TV box, that show the price of electricity throughout the day.

Knowing the cost may help customers reduce electricity consumption during peak
hours, Kelly said.

For instance, Xcel would advise the participating customers how to time
air-conditioners to go on and off or when not to use washer-dryers during hours
of peak power demand.

Apart from conserving energy and reducing carbon emissions, customers eventually
could save money on their electric bills, Kelly said.

"If we can make up the power we need through conservation, we don't need to
build new power plants," Kelly said.

 

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