Xcel responds to concerns about ‘push poll,’ PR campaign

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Jefferson Dodge

An Xcel
spokesperson is denying claims that the company is spending an unlimited amount
of money on an anti-municipalization public relations effort that includes
slanted phone calls disguised as surveys.

The “push poll,”
which was described in an email sent to city councilmember Lisa Morzel, was conducted by a firm called “RDD Field Services” and included the
question, “Electric rates by the city could increasingly burden commercial
users and local customers and drive jobs out of the city. Is this a ‘very strong’, ‘somewhat strong’, or
‘very weak’ reason to oppose the city’s municipalization efforts?” The
constituent who sent the email to Morzel wrote that there were several other
similar questions ending with: “Is this a ‘very strong’, ‘somewhat
strong’, or ‘very weak’ reason to oppose the city’s municipalization efforts?”

Former city
councilmember and energy activist Steve Pomerance and city councilmember Matt
Appelbaum told Boulder Weekly they’ve heard reports that Xcel has retained the
Kenney Group and given the Denver PR firm an unlimited budget to sway the minds
of Boulder voters in favor of Xcel’s proposed 20-year agreement to provide
electricity to the city.

Xcel
spokesperson Michelle Aguayo acknowledged that the company conducted the
phone survey, but denied that any PR firm has been given an unlimited budget.

“I think people
think we’ve invested a lot of money to fight this or we’ve already spent a lot
of money to get our position out there, but we haven’t,” she said. “As much as
people would like to think that Xcel Energy has an unlimited budget and that we
rake our customers over the coals to get as much money as we can, that would be
highly incorrect. We are capped at what we can earn, and we haven’t even
invested in any sort of campaign or fight as of yet.”

As for the phone
survey, Aguayo said it was not a push poll, in part because push polls don’t mention opposing sides, and the Xcel survey mentioned municipalization. She added that the poll is not any more slanted than surveys conducted by
the city.

“The city, of
course, is going to use one that’s going to be most in their favor,” she said.
“I know that we have engaged a group to do a poll, a survey, but it’s no
different than anything the city has done, which leans very favorably towards
municipalization. We’re asking basic energy questions and trying to gauge what
the folks in the city of Boulder are feeling about this issue.

“On the flip
side, do you do the same coverage when the city does these?” she asked.
“Because I know they’ve done a number of them very focused on their side. … Any good poll is going to push emotional buttons.”

Aguayo said she did not know how much the survey cost or how much Xcel is paying Kenney. She said Xcel is waiting to see what direction the city takes and whether the municipalization question lands on the ballot before it launches any “education” efforts targeting voters.

“There’s this misconception that Xcel is spending a lot of money to fight municipalization, and we’re not,” Aguayo said.

She also said she did not know how much money Xcel would lose annually if Boulder municipalized, but she noted that there are about 48,000 Xcel customers in Boulder, accounting for 3.5 percent of the company’s client base.