cap-and-trade scheme

Post image for Xcel Energy’s Versatile, Profitable Carbon Tax

To my knowledge, Colorado is the only state in which regulators allow utilities to incorporate a carbon tax into the economic models used to make resource acquisition decisions (see here and here). Ratepayers can’t see it in their monthly bill, but the tax is used in the models, and the models dictate spending. It’s the worst kind of virtual reality: The carbon tax leaps from computers to ratepayer wallets.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission was authorized to allow for a carbon tax in 2008 with the passage of HB 1164 by the General Assembly. The legislation was advertised as an essential component of former Governor’s Bill Ritter’s environmentalist “New Energy Economy,” but, in practice, the carbon tax has served as an accounting loophole through which Xcel Energy, the largest investor-owned utility in the State, has awarded itself big time profits. In a previous post, I explained in some detail how Xcel uses the carbon tax. Here are a few examples:

  • One of Xcel’s priorities is winning market share from independent power producers on the wholesale electricity market. Older natural gas plants are Xcel’s fiercest competitors, because they have already paid off their capital costs, so they can bid electricity prices relatively low. The $20/ton carbon tax eliminates this advantage, because new plants are more efficient than older plants. It tilts the playing field to Xcel’s favor.