Who will control our renewable energy future? The fossil fuel industry has controlled energy in the U.S. for the last century. As we move to an electric grid that is fully energized by clean energy, the fossil fuel industry wants to maintain its control of energy — its production, its distribution, its storage. If Boulder does not form its own municipal utility, Xcel Energy, an arm of the fossil fuel industry, will continue to dictate how we move forward with clean energy production.
The fossil fuel industry, with their disastrous track record of manipulation of laws and regulations regarding their activities, their dismissal of climate change, and their disregard for the human health consequences of extracting and burning of fossil fuels, would continue to sit in the driver’s seat.
It is time to put Xcel in the back seat as we move forward to embrace renewable energy. They can come along for the ride — we’ll need them — but giving them the keys to our renewable energy future would perpetuate the many problems that this industry has caused in our world. Which is why voting yes on 2L matters. The City of Boulder — indirectly, we citizens ourselves — should control renewable energy development, not a huge corporation housed in a distant city in another state.
For decades, the fossil fuel industry has known that their industry was warming our Earth, yet they did nothing to reduce their carbon emissions. Worse: as an industry, they muddied the issue, spending millions of dollars convincing the American people that climate change was not a concern.
Xcel has been part of climate change obfuscation. For years, Xcel Energy has been supporting climate change deniers like James Inhofe, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump with hefty campaign contributions (see OpenSecrets.org).
Late this summer, three Category 5 hurricanes formed in an Atlantic Ocean that was 2-5 degrees warmer than usual and did massive damage to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico while deadly fires burned across drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest. The fossil fuel industry has helped make these weather extremes possible.
Some people feel that Xcel is doing enough — they’ve said they’ll be at 55 percent renewable energy by 2026. A college student might point out that 55 percent means you’ve failed an exam, and a climate scientist will say that 55 percent by 2026 is not enough. Because Xcel is still so heavily invested in their coal plants, they can’t get us to 100 percent clean electricity by 2030, which is where we need to be.
Others are concerned about the cost. Yes, freeing ourselves from Xcel is expensive. But consider how much more expensive it could be to stay with Xcel. Xcel-Public Service has made some boondoggle mistakes in the last century. Older Coloradans might remember the Fort St. Vrain gas-cooled nuclear power plant, which Public Service built near Platteville, Colorado. In its short 10-year commercial lifespan, it never justified its massive cost. It limped along, not producing at capacity and developing some minor problems with radioactive leakage, until it was finally closed in 1989, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Public Service, now known as Xcel, recently completed Comanche 3, a billion-dollar plus power plant that will be burning coal until 2069. Xcel built this coal-fired plant after it was clear that greenhouse gasses are causing climate change. Who ultimately pays for these bad decisions? We the ratepayers.
And do we want to bind ourselves to fossil fuel companies? San Francisco and Oakland just sued the five biggest oil companies because of the growing costs of climate change. How long before cities start suing investor-owned utilities for helping to warm our climate? Do we want to be bound to Xcel as the lawsuits start? How much will that cost ratepayers and the City of Boulder?
In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein asserts that as we develop renewable energy, we have an opportunity to address some of the massive economic inequity that the fossil fuel industry has helped cause. But we will not be able to establish a more equitable economy if a fossil fuel monopoly becomes a renewable energy monopoly.
In establishing its own municipal utility, the City’s objectives would be to provide clean, efficient and affordable electricity. Shareholders and CEOs would not be part of the equation.
The truth is, we can’t afford to stick with Xcel, which is why the Sierra Club, New Era, 350.org, Empower Our Future and Clean Energy Action all support Boulder’s muni.
Vote yes vote on 2L.
Rebecca Dickson is chair of the Sierra Club-Indian Peaks Group.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.