The municipal utility issue has only become more complex in the months since Xcel walked away from the bargaining table in July, after talks about its wind-energy deal broke down.
In many quarters, Xcel has been painted as the bad guy, the big corporate power that is antithetical to Boulder values like local control and speedy adoption of a variety of renewable energy sources. And so it followed, logically, that if Xcel was opposed to municipalization, well that’s a good enough reason to vote for it.
But this is no longer a simple, black-and-white battle between the good people of Boulder and a profit-hungry corporation. There are some well-meaning, card-carrying environmentalists who have come out against municipalization, saying the proposal was too rushed and that the city should explore other options before pouring a bunch of money into what might turn out to be a black hole.
Yes, Xcel is bankrolling the anti-municipalization ad campaign that has been in our faces for weeks. And, yes, the anti-municipalization group called the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition has its fair share of members who would benefit financially from Xcel getting what it wants.
Critics charge that the coalition is in bed with groups like the Boulder Economic Council, Boulder Tomorrow and the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, which counts among its board members Xcel Boulder Area Manager Craig Eicher, the chair of the Chamber’s Economic Council.
Even David Miller, chair of the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, has acknowledged in an interview with Boulder Weekly that his renewable energy consulting firm New Energy Development (in which Deputy Mayor Ken Wilson is also a partner) might suffer if the city severs its ties with Xcel.
But the coalition also counts among its members people like Karey Christ-Janer, who most recently made headlines after being depicted in an anti-municipalization ad as a “Boulder citizen,” even though her legal residence is in California.
Christ-Janer, a graphic designer, is a self-described environmental activist who has been involved in anti-carbon and anti-coal campaigns, in addition to ClimateSmart and RenewablesYES, last year’s campaign for a replacement utility occupation tax. She pays for wind energy to offset power used at the homes that she owns in Berthoud and Salida. And Christ-Janer has been active in the community choice aggregation movement in California, where communities can now buy power from outside sources without owning the infrastructure.
She says municipalization doesn’t go far enough to bring renewable energy to Boulder and could unnecessarily cost the city a lot of money, even if city officials take one of the “off-ramps” and decide not to pursue it.
Christ-Janer and other proponents of “localization,” like Jack Mason, who teaches in the Global Energy Management Program at CU-Denver, argue that the money the city will spend on municipalization and the costs of a legal battle with Xcel could be better used. They support funding localization efforts like energy efficiency and conservation, electric vehicles, small-scale renewable energy projects and waste heat generation instead.
Christ-Janer says the city’s initial estimates on the cost of municipalization did not include renewable energy and relied too heavily on natural gas to reduce carbon dioxide, despite environmental concerns about gas extraction methods like fracking.
But they also acknowledge that municipalization does not preclude the city from pursuing any of the initiatives they suggest.
Some say that while it is difficult to trust the city with spending so much taxpayer money, there are some cost limits built into Issue 2B and Question 2C.
Question 2C states that Boulder will not charge rates exceeding Xcel’s rates at the time of acquisition, and those rates must be enough to fund operating expenses and debt payments, plus an amount equal to 25 percent of the debt payments. It also says the city will provide “reliability comparable to Xcel Energy.” The tax would expire no later than Dec. 31, 2017, and would end earlier if the city decides not to pursue municipalization or launches the utility before that date.
Municipalization is consistent with community values related to localization and renewable energy, so the question is, is it worth the cost? How much is Boulder citizens’ dedication to local control and powering themselves with renewable energy worth? Is there a better way?
And do Boulder residents trust the city staff and their elected representatives to make a sound decision on the matter? We’ll find out on Nov. 1.