Kick the Xcel habit

Pamela White | Boulder Weekly

The trouble with finding new sources of renewable energy is that the people who currently profit off our energy use want to continue profiting forever and ever. Our need as a human family to find new ways of staying warm, cooking our meals and making things go vroom is immaterial to people who will cease to be rich the moment we stop buying fossil fuels.

Imagine a nation where places once known as “gas stations” stay in business only by selling junk food and coffee and offering access to restrooms. Imagine a country where power is supplied through a hodgepodge of wind, solar, biomass, and tidal sources, with each family, neighborhood and town supplying their own. Imagine having no gasoline costs, no electricity bill, no heating bill.

For someone concerned about pollution and global climate change, it sounds like the endgame they’re working toward. For the people in these industries, it just sounds like the end.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for them — I certainly don’t. I bring it up because it explains why companies like Xcel try so damned hard to keep us dependent upon them.

Their vision of the future, shared by the petroleum industry and the coal industry, is one in which they have a product to sell us — energy — and we continue to buy.

There are other visions out there.

Some members of Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, in cahoots with Xcel, reportedly want to profit off the creation of solar gardens.

At this point in human history, we have a chance to rethink how we use energy and how we extract it. It was a conscious corporate effort that created our gasoline-dependent culture, with industry pushing government to scuttle vast plans for public transportation in favor of cars. But with peak oil likely upon us, if not already behind us, we must start making new plans to feed our need for energy. This gives us an opportunity to create our future as consciously as industry created our past.

Industry has been contemplating this problem for quite some time. Many years ago, I went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden. What I expected was an establishment dedicated to pure research on renewable energy. What I found was an institution that was deeply involved in public-private partnerships where tax dollars were being used to help create renewable energy technology that private industry would perhaps one day sell back to the same taxpayers who helped pay for its development. Well, that’s fine, I suppose, though I’ve always thought a taxpayer investment ought to come with a hefty taxpayer discount on the other end. But what the visit to NREL really showed me was how desperate industry is to retain control over our access to and supply of energy.

Think of it this way: You’re a crack addict, and fossil fuels are the best rock around. The extraction, refinement and distribution industries associated with fossil-fuel-based energy are your dealer. The last thing in the world they want is for you to kick the habit.

But kick the habit we must. We will eventually run out of oil deposits and mountains to tear down for coal. The energy industry knows this. But it wants to control that transition so it still has a product that we must buy.

What would Boulder look like if voters opt to municipalize energy and worked to take the entire town off the grid by putting solar panels on every home and building that could benefit from them, by erecting solar parks across the city, by taking advantage of wind energy where possible and using waste from our public lands for biomass energy?

If we pass measures 2B and 2C, we might get an answer to my question. At the very least, we’ll be in a position to explore our options as a city — and to shape our own future.

If we don’t pass 2B and 2C, we’ll continue to buy whatever Xcel sells us.

Vote YES on 2B and 2C. And when you consider Xcel’s actions during this election, vote YES on 2H, too. Corporations shouldn’t be able to buy their way into our elections.