April Fool's Day jokes often seem funnier to those pulling them than they do to their targets.
That was undoubtedly the case for bogus letters claiming that Xcel Energy would be cutting off anyone who voted to end Boulder's relationship with the power supplier.
"We consider it fraud," says Xcel spokesman Gabriel Romero. "We've had situations in the past where we've had people call our customers and try to get their credit card money. And even though these people didn't ask for money, we treat it exactly the same way. It's just as bad."
The back story: Last year, Boulder voters sanctioned city officials to look into creating a municipal energy supplier that would supplant Xcel. Since then, as noted by the Boulder Daily Camera, relations between the city and the company have deteriorated, with the company trying to change the terms of energy-efficiency and solar-rebate programs -- a move Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr has branded discriminatory.
The letter, seen below in its entirety, plays off this dispute. "We have already ended all Boulder residents' ability to apply for energy-efficiency rebates and have blocked Boulder customers from participating in future solar gardens and long-term wind-power purchasing programs," it notes.
In addition, the missive maintains that Xcel managed to obtain voter files from the last election and discovered that "your household voted to allow City Council to sever relations with Xcel Energy." Hence, "Our legal counsel informs us that we are no longer bound to provide our services to households such as yours."
Hilarious? Not to Xcel.
"We started getting calls yesterday morning," says Romero, who guesses that hundreds of letters were slid under or tacked to doors or placed in mailboxes throughout Boulder. "Many people received them, including city council members."
Indeed, councilman Tim Plass was among those to get a copy of the letter, which he characterized to the Camera as "definitely a great April Fool's joke."
"We certainly don't consider it a joke," Romero counters, "especially given the situation we have in Boulder at the moment. When a customer receives a letter that says, 'Because of your vote, we're going to shut your power off,' it hits right at the heart of what's going on there whether they were for municipalization or not. And it goes into security areas for us. We're trying to effectively explain our position to our customers in Boulder, and then you get something like this...."
Xcel's real message? "We don't want to stop serving our customers in Boulder," Romero stresses. "We're certainly not angry at our customers, and we want them to continue to be our customers. We're not interested in selling our system -- that's really the bottom line."
At the same time, Romero acknowledges that the current circumstances "are contentious, because it's a condemnation that starts this whole process, and that really isn't a nice thing. Municipalization involves the City of Boulder taking the system away from Xcel Energy, so there could be litigation, and nothing might end up happening for five years. And the vote doesn't mean Boulder will form a municipal authority. It just means they're exploring the possibility of that."
Whatever happens, though, "this letter certainly doesn't help the situation," Romero allows. "From the outside looking in, one side can say it was just a joke. But saying Xcel Energy is going to cut your energy off because you voted against municipalization is pretty serious, and for anyone to take it as less than that would be unfortunate."
Here's the letter:
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More from our News archive circa April 1, 2010: "Dust your crack or else!: Door-hanger spoof strikes Boulder."
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