The world is watching the muni
I have spent roughly three months in Boulder now. As a Dutch researcher I have been trying to get to know the community. I realized that, to truly understand Boulder’s dynamic community, I would have to spend a lifetime in this city. Nevertheless, I picked up a few basics. Most importantly, you are an extraordinarily caring community. You are willing to set aside time, expertise and money to help your community as well as the natural environment. Voluntarily joining the City’s working groups to share your expertise, proves a true commitment to the values you have as a person and a city. Being the first city in the nation with a carbon tax pushed and approved by its citizens, shows a willingness to invest in improving the environment.
The research I have done in the past three months focused on the municipalization effort. This is another example of Boulder’s culture of care and commitment. The effort that started in 2010 was always expected to be a struggle. It was known that Xcel Energy is a powerful utility because of the profits it makes. It was also known that the company’s practices are deeply rooted in the state’s regulatory bodies. And it was known that the electricity Xcel Energy provides has a vital role in daily lives and in the economy of the state. Despite knowing what challenges the City would face, it held on to its values and voted to explore municipalization.
There was a clear enthusiasm starting the municipalization effort. Volunteers joined different working groups to model and negotiate. Different groups in the community educated city staff, council and the public on the issue. The public approved an increase in taxes to further explore municipalizing. All these efforts aimed at democratizing energy systems and increase renewable energy. All along Boulder was hoping to come out of the effort being a David-and-Goliath example for other communities.
The effort has taken eight years and David is getting tired. Although it was expected to be a costly, complex and time-consuming process, the setbacks have dispirited many in the community. What started out as an exciting challenge, is now seen as a hopeless struggle that splits the community.
Those that critique municipalization focus on the costs of the effort and question the City’s capabilities. Moreover, they point out the progress Xcel has been making in increasing their share of renewables. Those that advocate municipalization blame Xcel for not being cooperative and delaying the hard work the City is doing.
I would advise the community to step away from the negativity that has overshadowed the exploration. The community should think about the values that are the foundation of the municipalization effort. The two main reasons were to increase renewables and have more local control. Although Xcel is slowly investing more in renewable energy, the company still prioritizes pleasing its shareholders over providing what is best for its customers. Besides, having any influence over the company’s actions remains a complicated process.
But, the way forward is not to keep focusing on the wrong-doings of this investor-owned utility, a monopoly that has power over and roots in state legislation and regulation. It is time to do what the community in Boulder is best at: be engaged in political processes, educate your political leaders and trust in their hard work. During the municipalization effort, the City has engaged the public for a long time. However, as the legal processes continued an information vacuum emerged. This clearly decreased the community’s level of trust in the City and its capabilities. The City has admitted it made a mistake in allowing this to happen. The City is trying to re-engage the community in its efforts. To best support the City and the democratic decision made in 2017, it needs a community that trusts in the City and participates in its efforts in a critical yet constructive manner. The City should be as transparent and objective in presenting its results to rebuild trust. This eventually allows the City to speak up to Xcel and in court to make their bold and righteous claims.
Mara de Patar/Boulder, graduate student researching energy democracy
The curious aspect of walls in human history — Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall — as remnants of past efforts to keep the alien “other” at bay and reminders that fading empires eventually fall, is that they are now reduced to being tourist attractions. In this light, Donald Trump’s Great Southern Border Wall has to be regarded as a last-ditch effort to halt an inevitable demographic shift in America’s long-standing sense of entitlement and white supremacy.
This is also the motivation behind Republican efforts for voter suppression and authoritarian, anti-democratic rule. Failure here for them is not an option.