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Thursday, October 17,2013

Election Guide 2013: No on Boulder Ballot Question 310

By Boulder Weekly Staff

City of Boulder Ballot Question No. 310
City debt limitations

Vote No

Xcel was polling Boulder residents about the language of Question 310 even as the company was denying that it had anything to do with getting the question on the ballot. And then, Xcel threw $300,000 behind the question in its effort to get it passed.

Why such interest?

Because Xcel wants to keep its profitable Boulder customers and it understands what some in Boulder still don’t, namely, that Question 310 has been designed as a Trojan horse capable of destroying any chance for the city of Boulder to create its own electric utility dedicated to sourcing its power in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.

That’s why Xcel is trying to buy the passage of 310, which has been disguised as a ballot measure to enhance democratic participation and strengthen taxpayer control over local government expenditures.

Question 310 may look good on the outside, but open the trap door and gander within and you’ll see a time bomb waiting to destroy all the hard work that’s gone into the municipalization process thus far.

It’s all in the timing of future events created by the wording.

First of all, as for the passage of 310 giving the 7,000 county residents — those who live outside Boulder’s city limits but who would likely be getting their electricity from the new city-owned utility — a vote on municipalization, it can’t. State law would have to be changed in order for the City of Boulder or Xcel to conduct such a vote. Nice idea. BW also wishes they had had a chance to vote from the beginning, but 310 will do nothing to solve this loophole in the democratic process.

As for voter approval when debt needs to be issued, no other utility in the state, municipal or otherwise, has to go through the time- and resource- consuming process of getting voter approval every time it needs to use debt to properly function as an ongoing business. It is an impractical burden that would make it impossible for the city to operate a utility.

Citizens already voted to approve the municipalization of their electric utility as long as it wouldn’t cost them more for electricity and it could be just as reliable as the current monopoly system controlled by Xcel. The city has gone through a painstaking process to determine the feasibility of creating such a city-owned system and has concluded that it can be done under the requirements of equal cost and reliability as long as certain parameters are met. And to make sure voters are comfortable with those parameters, Boulder City Council has gone so far as to put Question 2E on the ballot to guarantee a maximum spending limit on the acquisition of Xcel’s assets and stranded costs. In other words, voting yes on 2E effectively eliminates any need, pretend or otherwise, for the passage of 310.

Question 2E safeguards taxpayers from any possibility that the city will overspend, without adding the extra time bomb of having to get voter approval for debt before the amount of the debt can even be accurately determined.

To put it bluntly, there is no viable plan B should Question 310 pass. If it passes, municipalization is dead and all the time, energy and money invested to date will have been a total waste. The only option in the future would be to return to square one someday with a new ballot measure and repeat the exact same process that has just been done, no doubt arriving at the same conclusions.

And to what purpose? Such a do-over someday would simply be met once again by a similar disinformation campaign designed to scare people into maintaining the status quo no matter how detrimental to the planet’s environment.

We, as in we as human beings, are running out of time. We must confront global warming now by getting off of coal and yes, even methane-leaking natural gas as sources for generating our electricity as quickly as possible. Not next decade or even next year.

Every day we spend talking about the changes we must make instead of acting to make those changes is another day closer to too late, too late for our planet, too late for our children.

Don’t let a giant corporation driven only by its fiduciary duty to create and maintain maximum profit for its shareholders dupe you into voting for Question 310.

If you mark only one box on your ballot this year, make it a no vote on Question 310.

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re: " State law would have to be changed in order for the City of Boulder or Xcel to conduct such a vote."

Except of course that is a myth, the anti-310 folks peddle that despite having cited absolutely no law which prevents a vote from being held. High school kids hold votes, even a private citizen could hold a vote, since voting is a voluntary action. There is nothing requiring people to participate so the city needs no jurisdiction over these people. There would have to be a law preventing this, and it is incredibly doubtful any exists and they haven't cited it.

It may be that the current election mechanism (which is about candidates and law changes, not this kind of vote) can't be used, but I very much doubt they even bothered trying to ask the county if they could pay to help conduct it somehow to do it more efficiently (since this impacts county residents it seems likely they would help if all the costs are covered).

If the city is too incompetent to hold an election as high school kids manage to do so, or to have found a law to cite showing why they can't after several weeks they've known about this, then people should wonder whether the city is competent take on the far more complicated task of starting a muni.



re: "Citizens already voted to approve the municipalization of their electric utility as long as it wouldn’t cost them more for electricity and it could be just as reliable as the current monopoly system controlled by Xcel"

That is very misleading. They only need to *estimate* they could charge comparabale rates at the time of aquisition, not day 2. No matter what the costs are, they were guaranteed to be able to meet this goal since the city just estimates it borrows money to subsidize the initial rates, and then charges more later to make up for it. They could estimate they will charge $0 if they wanted to, then jack up the rates. In addition, they *never* need to actually charge those rates of course, they are free to say "nah, we prefer this more expensive approach" or "oops, they were right, the estimates are way off, we need to charge more".

Studies show that *most* estimates of the costs of large projects are too low, often by a wide margin, like FastTracks, DIA, Boston's "big dig", etc. The "devil is in the details" that aren't known until later, especially by those that haven't done a particular type of project before.  Proponents tend to be optimistic about the costs of a project they wish to be approved and may not spot the downsides.

People in the world of new business startups grasp that many plans are overoptimistic, the difference is that in the startup world people realize they may not do as well, they don't confuse fantasies with reality. There is a reason that the nationally prominent local venture capital fund the Foundry Group contributed to the 310 campaign, and that its venture capitalists have posted messages skeptical of the city's business plan in the past.




re: " Question 2E on the ballot to guarantee a maximum spending limit on the acquisition of Xcel’s assets and stranded costs"

It pretends to set a $214 million debt limit, but that is only for acquisition costs, which many poorly informed voters won't realize. It does not include other start up costs which aren't limited. It includes "stranded costs" that would be paid to Xcel, but *only* if they are paid in a lump sum, it explicitly allows them to be paid over time in rates. Current city plans already borrow money to subsidize the rates at first. So the city could for instance say make a deal to pay Xcel $400 million over time out of rates for a few years, then borrow $400 million more in start up costs it uses to subsidize those initial rates. Effectively the city has a blank check, while pretending to the uninformed that it set a debt limit, hoping apparently to mislead people that aren't paying close attention into thinking this is a real debt limit since they include a $ figure.

In fact the charter changes are somewhat unclear, but it appears the city could probably even make a deal to pay stranded costs not in a lump sum,but not out of rates either (they merely use that as one explicit thing they allow). It may be they could simply pay Xcel in 2 payments, $400 million the first year and $1 the second year.

The city's ballot issue tries a sleazy scam to pretend to do something for county residents, but in fact doesn't guarantee to provide them anything. The actual charter changes just suggest that they will *attempt* to provide some choice in the future for groups (not individuals) and only between Xcel and the muni of course. The "attempt" may amount to thinking about it for five minutes and saying "nah, we don't know how to do it, thats enough of an attempt, we give up". It also doesn't say which year.. or century.. this might occur in.

If anything there may be some pro-muni folks that support 310 instead since they support the idea of a real democratic decision. They may grasp that if they try to grab county residents without a vote that this may be tied up in court for a while. In almost every way the city has no more jurisdiction over those county residents outside its border than say the government of Mexico would have or a private citizen or corporation has. The limited exceptions re: eminent domain are likely not relevant, and are ripe to be challenged at the US Supreme Court level as being unconstitutional. If the city of Colorado Springs tried to pass a conservative law they wished to enforce within the city of Boulder they would be laughed at. It is no less absurd for the city of Boulder to try to control county residents merely because they live next to the city border.



re: "If it passes, municipalization is dead and all the time, energy and money invested to date will have been a total waste."

It will only kill the muni if the public doesn't approve the final debt limit, and political insiders apparently feel it won't which should make the public more eager to vote on a real debt limit instead of the sleazy scam the city is trying to pull.

The muni isn't about green energy, as I posted on the 2E ballot issue page in detail, it is so council can waste lots of money on poles&lines since it thinks it'd be fun to "play monopoly". There are more comments on the Daily Camera's voter guide as well, and many posters combat the various myths and misinformation about these ballot issues there. I'd suggest anyone thinking about voting against 310 or for 2E post a comment on one of the Camera pages when a letter to the editor or article on the topic arises and you will find people there to address whatever reason you have which may be based on myths. The anti-democratic anti-310 campaign is full of a  lot of mislading information and outright misinformation.



Is it Vanity and not Sanity that is now driving Municipalization past all the so called off-ramps?  I have prepared an online Powerpoint presentation that shows both what Xcel has already accomplished versus what Boulder claims they can accomplish, as well as Xcel’s 20 year plan versus Boulder’s.  Boulder is only about 3.4% of the entire Colorado Xcel power usage.  Even with the best results, Boulder will only have a 1 to 2 % impact on the state total.  That is what I would call a statistically insignificant shallow victory, especially if carbon reduction is the goal.  Xcel already has 19.5% renewables in their energy source mix.  That is already approximately more that the equivalent of 10 Boulder municipalizations!

Did you know that Boulder still has plans to use coal for most of the next 20 years?  Did you know that Xcel has a steady reduction of coal use over the same period?  Did you know that Boulder will ultimately have a high reliance on wind (bird and bat mortality) and natural gas (fracking).  Did you know that Boulder and Xcel both plan to have about the same low (5 to 3%) use of solar?  We need to use our power to motivate Xcel, Public Utilities Commission, and our state representatives, not create our own bureaucracy, at great expense, that will result in exactly the same problems in the long run.   The startup costs alone are estimated to be 35.8 million dollars, with hundred(s) of millions more to come.  For what, a 2% change?

When you critically think that Xcel is guilty of misrepresentation, what is stopping you from using that same critical assessment of Boulder’s plan?  Is it Vanity and not Sanity?  See data and sources at http://tinyurl.com/munivanity2.