2B and 2C Pass!!!
By Laura Snider, Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 11/01/2011 06:06:19 PM MDT
Boulder voters narrowly passed a historic ballot measure Tuesday that will allow the city to sever its ties with Xcel Energy and strike out on its own to start a municipal electric utility.
A companion tax designed to pay for the legal bills and consultants’ fees that the city will incur on the way to starting such a utility also narrowly passed early Wednesday morning despite trailing in preliminary results all Tuesday night.
As of 12:55 a.m. with an unofficial total of 82,724 votes counted, Boulder Question 2C, which allows for the creation of a municipal utility, passed with 51.8 percent of the vote — a margin of 933 votes.
Issue 2B, which will raise the existing utility occupation tax by $1.9 million annually, passed with 50.3 percent of the vote — a margin of 141 votes.
Earlier in the evening, when it appeared that 2B would fail, supporters of municipalization gathered at the Hotel Boulderado said that earning voter approval for starting a municipal utility was far more important than having voters pass the companion tax.
“Once we pass 2C, we don’t have to pass it again,” said Ken Regelson, who helped lead the campaign in support of municipalization. “It leaves the door open for us for finding alternate funding or we can delay a year and go back to voters (for a tax hike).”
David Miller — chairman of the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, which campaigned against 2B and 2C — said Tuesday night that the close nature of the race shows that the community is divided on whether to municipalize, regardless of where the final vote count falls.
“It looks to me like the voters are not endorsing municipalization,” he said. “It was presented as the passport to clean energy, and I don’t think there’s any sort of resounding endorsement of that.”
An Xcel Energy official who was expected to comment on the election Tuesday night did not contact the Camera by 11:30 p.m.
The drive to form a municipal utility grew out of the city’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006, Boulder voters approved a carbon tax to fund programs that would help Boulder meet the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels.
But despite the city’s efforts creating and implementing its Climate Action Plan, Boulder is not expected to meet its Kyoto goal. The city’s difficulty shaving carbon prompted some Boulder leaders and environmental activists to call for a change in where Boulder gets its electricity.
Now, Xcel gets about 60 percent of its electricity from coal, and local supporters of the city’s carbon-cutting efforts would like to see Boulder form a municipal utility that could eventually source more of its electricity from renewable energy.
Xcel Energy actively campaigned against the two issues, pouring about $950,000 into the fight. The four groups that campaigned in favor of municipalization collectively raised less than a tenth as much — about $87,500.
Even with a vote to move forward, it could take five years or more before the city is ready to start a utility. In those years, the city and Xcel would hash out how much the breakup would cost the city, including the price tag for buying Xcel’s local distribution system and the amount of money owed to Xcel for “stranded costs,” or investments made by the utility in anticipation of continuing to serve Boulder.
Initial estimates of what municipalization will cost vary from $290 million, according to the city’s consultants, to about $1.2 billion, according to Xcel’s consultants. The real costs will be determined by the courts and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
People on both sides of the issue said Tuesday night that continued citizen involvement will be critical over the next several years if 2C passes.
“It’s essential that all of the parts of the community stay involved at a high level,” said Leslie Glustrom, who has worked to pass the municipalization measures. “Our goal is to bring our community together, not split it apart.”
Boulder utility campaign being fought on yards and YouTube
By Mark Jaffe The Denver Post
Posted: 10/30/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
If the ballot measures giving the city of Boulder the power to create a municipal electricity utility were decided based on Facebook “likes” and yard signs, municipalization wins in a landslide.
The real results, however, will have to wait for a tally of mail-in ballots Tuesday, and that outcome is less certain, both sides say.
Xcel Energy, which faces losing Boulder as a service area, and its allies have spent about $900,000, almost 11 times as much as the supporters of municipalization, according to campaign-finance reports.
The Boulder contest has, however, gone beyond traditional campaign techniques such as phone banks, newspaper ads, mailings and canvassing.
The battle has been fought with YouTube, Internet pop-up ads, podcasts and cable-TV ads cheap enough for grassroots groups to put a 30-second spot on “Monday Night Football.”
“There have been so many ways to get the word out and to get to so many target groups,” said Tom Plant, co-chairman of the Boulder Clean Energy Business Coalition, which supports a municipal utility.
Plant, former head of the Governor’s Energy Office in the administration of then-Gov. Bill Ritter, does a daily podcast.
Boulder voters are being asked to decide on two ballot measures. One would create a utility occupation tax — about $1.20 a month per household — to raise $1.9 million a year to finance the development of a municipal utility.
The second ballot measure gives the city the authority to create an electricity utility and issue bonds to finance it — as long as its reliability and rates are in line with those of Xcel.
The ballot initiative was at first driven by Boulder’s goal to cut its carbon emissions as part of its climate action plan. Man-made carbon emissions have been linked, in scientific studies, to climate change.
Xcel uses coal-fired power plants, a major source of man-made carbon dioxide, to generate about half its electricity.
Municipalization was seen as a way of promoting renewable energy and buttressing local control.
“The goals keep shifting, which tells me something,” said Jerome Davis, the company’s regional vice president of customer and community relations.
A big question is how much it will cost to create a municipal utility.
Consultants hired by the city have put the figure at $200 million or less. Xcel has estimated that it is more than $500 million and possibly as much as $1 billion.
Boulder officials say that if it is too expensive, the city will not pursue a municipal utility and that ballot measures just give them the option of exploring the option.
Xcel, which expects to get 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2018, is frustrated because the ballot gives the city a green light not just to explore the option but to create its own utility, Davis said.
“This isn’t just a discussion,” he said. “This is a takeover. They want to take over our business.”
The 46,800 Boulder customers are 3.4 percent of Xcel’s customer base and generate $114 million in annual sales.
While the issue has energized the community, a lot of people appear to be undecided, organizers on both sides said.
“It’s a complicated issue, and I think some people are just taking time,” said David Miller, chairman of the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition — which opposes municipalization over concerns about cost.
The group has received about $275,000 from Xcel.
The coalition has sent out multiple mailings and placed large newspaper ads, Miller said. It has distributed 1,000 yard signs and set up a Facebook page and paid for pop-up ads.
Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future, the main advocate for a municipal utility, has spent $32,700 but has put 1,500 yard signs into the field, according to Ken Regelson, one of the group’s organizers.
It also has been able to place ads on Comcast cable television for as little as $30 for 30 seconds.
“We are still doing canvassing, literature drops, phone banks, but it is a new world,” Regelson said.
Clean Energy Future also has a Facebook page with 1,113 “likes.” The Smart Energy Coalition’s Facebook page has tallied 457 “likes.”
Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912 or email@example.com
The New York Times
In Colorado, a Power Struggle With the Power Company
Kevin Moloney for The New York Times
BOULDER, Colo. — Many Americans these days, from the huddled masses of Occupy Wall Street to the coifed confines of the presidential campaign, are talking about the future of capitalism.
Here, that debate is focused on electricity, specifically whether this city should, in Tuesday’s election, sever its relationship with a corporate utility and move toward a home-ruled, municipally owned one that would be environmentally greener and locally accountable.
Kristin Johnson, a 57-year-old lawyer, summed up her planned vote to oust the company, Xcel Energy, in seven succinct words.
“They don’t have our interest at heart,” she said.
Xcel, a Minneapolis-based company that supplies electricity across eight states, including most of Colorado, is fighting back hard, arguing that a divorce would be devastatingly expensive for Boulder residents through higher electricity rates and start-up costs. And if talk of home-rule is really about having more renewable, carbon-reduced energy generation, well then, the company has said in advertisements and letters to residents, a big corporation with deep pockets can help get there cheaper and faster than any city, however well intentioned.
“I can’t find the numbers for how Boulder is going to do it better,” said Bob Bellemare, an Xcel consultant.
Proponents of ballot issues 2C and 2B, which includes a $1.9 million tax increase in the first year to pay for planning and analysis, say that the utility industry desperately fears a public awakening, and that a John Brown-like raid on a monopoly in one place could galvanize electricity consumers all across the nation to push for change.
Leaders of the effort concede that huge challenges await if the city goes forward, and that Xcel is not the worst provider to have. Partly prodded by a Colorado law requiring 30 percent renewable energy by 2020 — one of the most aggressive standards in the nation — the company has become a big producer of wind electricity. It has also spent more than $40 million here in Boulder building a pilot project called Smart Grid, with sophisticated metering that can help customers reduce electricity use.
Not enough, some say.
“Boulder can do better,” said Shaun McGrath, a former mayor and a leader of the ballot drive.
“We were making some headway with our carbon reductions,” Mr. McGrath said, referring to the relationship with Xcel, which is still, like most utilities, dependent on coal for much of its output. “But really what we kept bumping into was this ceiling of where our electricity was coming from.”
The backdrop, both sides say, is the city itself, a mountain-fringed college town about 45 minutes from Denver that is consistently one of the most liberal and idealistic corners of Colorado politics. President Obama carried Boulder County with 72 percent of the vote in 2008.
In the electricity fight, left-leaning politics have been aligned with hard science, supporters say, creating a unique platform for thinking creatively about electricity and democracy.
Climate and weather research, in particular, has a huge presence in the city, at federal institutions like the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the tech-heavy University of Colorado that sprawls through the center of town. More than two-thirds of the population over age 25 has a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to census figures — compared with just over 36 percent for Colorado as a whole.
A passionate outdoor youth and fitness culture — a weekend run or ride on a Boulder bike path can feel like a border crossing to Spandex nation — completes the demographic circle from which the anti-Xcel forces have drawn support. A youth-centered group called New Era Colorado has been phone-banking for the electricity measures for weeks.
“It’s probably going to get passed because it is such a Boulder thing,” said Jane Imber, 55.
Ms. Imber, a freelance copy writer, said that she planned to vote no, even though she believes strongly in clean energy. “I think we have a better chance of changing Xcel from the inside than the outside,” she said.
Some supporters of the separation, though, say that local history — notably a long-simmering conflict over a coal-fired power plant in the city, called Valmont, which Xcel plans to retire by 2017 — has poisoned the well. Valmont has been the site of numerous protests over the years.
“There’s a special distrust of Xcel,” said Kate Clark, 27, a graduate student in environmental studies at the University of Colorado and a ferocious opponent of coal. Ms. Clark, who said she had also visited the Occupy Denver protest site several times in recent weeks, has volunteered at New Era Colorado.
The two ballot measures would not immediately initiate a break with Xcel or the creation of a new provider. The soonest that could happen, both sides say, given the many technical and legal issues — and the question of compensation to Xcel for the assets and customers it would lose — is probably 2017.
And Xcel officials have said there would be other bumps.
Because of the intense environmental ethos here, for example, Xcel customers in Boulder have been disproportionate enrollees in the company’s existing solar energy and conservation programs. The city’s 48,000 Xcel customers account for only 3.4 percent of the statewide ratepayer base, but 15 percent of the solar participants.
What that means is that solar installation rebates, Xcel officials said, totaling more than $38 million to Boulder customers since 2006, have been disproportionally borne by other customers around the state — a subsidy pipeline that could dry up with separation, though that decision would require regulators to weigh in.
And how green is green, anyway? Under Colorado law, shareholder-owned companies like Xcel are covered by the 30 percent renewable energy mandate by 2020. Municipally owned utilities of the size that Boulder would require would have to get to only 10 percent by then.
Jack Begg contributed research.
Boulder Weekly Letters to the Editor
Posted Thursday, October 27,2011
Xcel comes knocking
You’ve probably seen one of us walking around your neighborhood. We’ve been knocking on doors, handing out literature, and maybe we’ve even talked to you. We are paid canvassers, henchmen, nothing more than political mercenaries. We care little about your utility bill or what happens in your community. All that we care about is that you vote “NO” on Boulder Ballot Measures 2B and 2C.
We may look like concerned community volunteers, but we aren’t who you think we are. Some of us don’t even live in Boulder. Many of those who do just moved here, and all of us are being compensated, rather handsomely, for our efforts. Our responsibilities include knocking on about 100 doors a night and keeping detailed records about your responses to our questions. We are required to repeat the same script over and over again. We tell people we are “educating” them about the “risks” of 2B and 2C.
But after a time, I began to wonder, aren’t my colleagues and I really just indoctrinating people with an expensive misinformation campaign?
We were told it was “concerned Boulder citizens,” but it became quite obvious rather quickly it’s just Xcel Energy and a handful of other interests with big money. The company is on track to spend millions to stop Boulder from voting to explore municipalization, and a couple of those dollars came back to me.
Of course, they don’t make the paper trail very easy to track, but it’s not hard to figure out. As far as I can tell, here’s the scheme: I worked for a door-to-door canvassing firm, Rocky Mountain Voter Outreach, which was contracted by Boulder Smart Energy Coalition to perform door-to-door canvassing. Craig Eicher, a “regional manager” at Xcel, came to one of our morning meetings and happily answered our questions. He even went out canvassing with one of my co-workers for an afternoon and reported happily on the results the next day via email.
When I started the job, I thought the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition was something real. I entertained their message and thought their points were valid. Now, after walking the streets of Boulder and talking to hundreds of residents, I’m not so sure. I’ve heard a lot of great arguments about why exploring municipalization could be good for Boulder and why the scary points Xcel wants us to make aren’t completely credible.
I know I’m not alone. Some of my friends on the canvassing crew even expressed concerns to me about what they were doing, but ultimately decided to stay on “for the money.” Some even quit after a few days because they felt they were being asked to spread lies to help Xcel to continue making profits off of Boulder.
Honestly though, it doesn’t matter much to me — seeing as I live in Denver.
Editor’s note: Bain volunteers and writes for New Era Colorado, which supports the municipalization effort.
Submitted to Daily Camera
Around the country, municipal electric companies (“munis”) do very well with disasters like snowstorms.
In a recent letter to the editor, Marjorie Blizard noted that when hurricane Irene struck Connecticut, munis had power restored to all customers in 2 days. Connecticut’s investor-owned utilities (think Xcel) took 7 or more days. Massachusetts had a similar experience. (Google “municipal utilities shine in storm”). Why? The cities planned, trained, and coordinated across departments so that the fire and parks staff could chainsaw trees, the water department backhoe operators could plant power poles, leaving city linemen to work on the wires.
If a disaster is too big to handle locally, linemen come from all over to help, just as firemen came from all over to fight the Four-Mile fire. We would have reciprocal support agreements across local, regional, and national boundaries allowing us to bring linemen from outside, including Colorado Springs, Aspen, rural coops, and Fort Collins.
Speaking of Fort Collins, they have hands-down the best reliability in the state (with 99% of Fort Collins’ wires underground, Fort Collins linemen laugh at snow). Fort Collins also has much better rates than we have, and world-class renewable and efficiency innovation (see FortZED.com). A Boulder muni could explore undergrounding all of our wires, and have strong innovation as well.
Winter Park, Florida, municipalized in 2005. They developed a partnership with neighborhoods to bury power lines where the cost is split between customers and the utility. Each block of neighbors can choose to pay a bit more on their bills and get their power lines buried right away. With Xcel we have no such choice.
Boulder deserves innovation, competitive rates, and reliability. Vote YES on 2B and 2C to explore all of our options.
Daily Camera Letters to the Editor
Posted: 10/26/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Boulder is set for success
As a once and future Boulder resident, I’d like to share my experience with municipal utilities and the comparison with big utility companies.
Here in Norwich, Conn., we have a municipal utility company. Norwich Public Utilities provides electricity, gas, water and sewer. NPU is owned by the city and is responsible to the City Council and the taxpayers, not to stockholders. NPU’s profits are returned to the city of Norwich and offset some of the tax burden.
I’m a big fan of NPU. I live in Norwich and use NPU services. My rental properties in a nearby town are served by Connecticut Light and Power, part of Northeast Utilities, a large publicly traded company. There’s a big difference in service.
NPU offers terrific customer service. An emergency call gets an NPU service person there in 10 minutes, even after business hours. With CL&P, I call an 800-number and someone in a call center somewhere will submit a work order. Eventually they get a technician there, in a day or two.
After the recent Hurricane Irene disaster, NPU had electricity restored to all its customers in 2 days. CL&P took over a week — so slow the governor ordered an investigation.
In many ways Boulder is better equipped than Norwich to operate a utility company. Norwich is smaller, less educated and less affluent than Boulder. And yet NPU is well run and environmentally conscious, and a priceless asset to the city. Boulder has an opportunity to have the same advantages. If I lived in Boulder now, I’d vote for it.
From Intelligent Utility
Boulder seeks divorce from Xcel
Municipalization on next week’s ballot
One week from today, a fascinating experiment in self-governance will have played out in Boulder, Colo.
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Boulder voters will render a decision on whether to proceed with “municipalization”—that is, divorce incumbent provider Xcel Energy and form a municipal utility.
The vote will be fascinating in and of itself because the city’s possible municipalization carries with it many “unknowns”; in fact, the “unknowns” probably outweigh the “knowns.” Some unknowns are preceded by dollar signs and followed by a parade of zeroes. Others are purely operational or administrative.
First, what has this got to do with intelligent utilities, our mission here at Intelligent Utility Daily?
Xcel Energy, arguably, is an intelligent (and investor-owned) utility. It does not want to lose a major Colorado city that accounts for about $100 million in annual revenue. (Colorado, of the eight states in Xcel Energy’s service territory, accounts for 42 percent of Xcel’s profits, according to The Denver Post.)
Boulder, if it creates its own utility, would have to incorporate digital smarts to achieve the operational efficiencies and to integrate a more progressive fuel mix and the levels of renewable energy and distributed generation it advocates.
Further, it has been credibly suggested that Xcel chose Boulder for its SmartGridCity project, initiated several years ago, because the city’s franchise agreement with Xcel was due for renewal in 2010. In 2005 and 2010, Boulder had commissioned feasibility studies around municipalization. (Both studies declared the glass half full on feasibility.) Xcel did not miss these signals. It chose Boulder for SmartGridCity in 2008.
If SmartGridCity was intended to demonstrate that Xcel was serious about modernizing Boulder’s grid, incorporating smarts and an ambitious renewable energy agenda, that didn’t pan out very well. (For coverage on the public relations debacle that cost recovery produced, see “Ratepayers on Hook for Xcel’s $44.5 Million SmartGridCity.”)
From many Boulderites’ perspective, SmartGridCity took too long to produce any tangible benefits, triple cost overruns caused outrage and, based on those two reasons alone, the relationship soured further.
The Boulder City Council (at least a portion of it) and Boulderites (at least a portion of them) believe that the city can create and operate a municipal utility, like thousands of other cities and communities and their two consultants agree. That would offer Boulder a means to control its own energy future, in part through ambitiously high renewables penetration and its purported corollary, decarbonization.
Xcel, for its part, warns that Boulder is out of its depth, that the city (and its consultants) has vastly underestimated the costs and complexities of running its own power system and that the potentially estranged, incumbent utility will fight tooth and nail to stop the project or extract a hefty price for its infrastructure and lost revenue.
A brief aside on the antagonists. Boulder is far from the homogeneous, purple-hazed college town utopia that critics’ caricatures would have it. The citizenry overall may lean liberal, but the business community is strong and the cost of living is high. Regardless of political stripe, the commercial/industrial sector and Main Street businesses don’t like unknowns and gambles.
Several grassroots groups have arisen on both sides of the debate, as has one astro-turf organization, the “Boulder Smart Energy Coalition,” which denied any affiliation with Xcel and refused to reveal its contributors until legally bound to do so. Since Aug. 17, this group of concerned citizens has spent $273,746 to fight municipalization; $250,000 of that was donated by Xcel, records show.
Xcel, for its part, has tried to accommodate Boulder’s demands for higher renewable energy penetration and, clumsily, grid modernization. In the face of Boulder’s ambitions (read: intransigence), Xcel has turned up the heat, sowing fear and outspending pro-municipalization groups by 10 to 1.
When Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s regional sustainability coordinator, told a public meeting this past summer that city staff and consultant Robertson-Bryan, Inc. had found municipalization legally, technically and financially feasible and capable of providing local, reliable power at attractive rates, the pushback was instant.
Craig Eicher, Xcel’s local manager for community and local government affairs, said that if Boulder divorced Xcel the city would be “hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and you don’t have a single kilowatt of clean energy.”
Now, none of this run-up to the election is remotely as compelling as what transpires should Boulderites give the okay at the polls next week. The process of quantifying costs must legally begin. Just on Xcel’s stranded costs there’s a bit of a discrepancy. Xcel valued them this summer at $335 million and Boulder suggested they were worth zero dollars. Then there are the potentially massive legal fees that could accrue over legal wrangling if Boulder sought to gain Xcel assets through condemnation. And the fate of an “off ramp” option—that Boulder could abandon municipalization if new numbers caused it to reconsider—appears to concern citizens who variously fear that Xcel could be right and that the Boulder City Council already has too much power, judging from newspaper forum remarks these past months.
Finally, this is far from a slam dunk for either side. An August poll found 71 percent of Boulder voters in favor municipalization. An October poll of Boulder County residents, including many who live outside the city and thus will not vote on municipalization, revealed the single most important issue right now is jobs and the economy.
For now, this is the one to watch, folks. Next week’s election could give a read on the political mood in a liberal city. If voters approve the divorce, the whole (smart grid) world is watching as Boulder walks a political, legal, financial and technological tightrope.
Intelligent Utility Daily
Daily Camera Letters to the Editor
Posted: 10/25/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Climate change is being addressed
In Sunday’s Camera, Clay Evans calls the ballot issue of 2B/2C a “luxury problem” unrelated to issues of “reality.” He then goes on to list the “real” problems, including “the critical issue of climate change,” which has been put, as he says, “not just on the back burner, but tossed into the compost” heap.
But the critical issue of climate change is precisely what 2B/2C is about. We are not getting, and not likely to get in the near future, national action on climate change. But we can act locally.
Passage of 2B/2C will allow Boulder to reduce its energy carbon footprint by over 60 percent (while keeping rates competitive), and will put us on track to reduce our carbon footprint even further and faster than Xcel can deliver.
Passing 2B/2C is a real action real citizens can take right now to address a real problem.
Daily Camera Letters to the Editor
Posted: 10/23/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Create a greener community
The board and staff at Eco-Cycle, your local nonprofit Zero Waste enterprise, are supporting the effort to continue analyzing the path toward a community electric utility. Despite what Xcel seems to be implying, a yes vote does not mean that Boulder is definitely creating a city utility.
It means only that we can continue the process already begun of serious due-diligence to help City Council make the best decision in the future. The potential benefits of a community electric utility are real, and so are the concerns, but we must keep moving forward on developing this idea before we make a final decision.
Only a yes vote on 2B and 2C will allow that. Without a yes vote, our options are closed, the information gathering will stop, and we just have to take what Xcel gives us without the benefit of looking at all our options.
There are no risks to a yes vote. This is not the “big decision” to create a city electric utility. That decision awaits us in the future. Don’t buy the fear that Xcel is selling — we are not a “can’t do” community, we are a “can do” community, and that requires our minds to be open and focused on creating a better Boulder.
Why would a resource conservation organization like Eco-Cycle care about this issue? Because we care about all topics critical to our mission. We support the community desire to create local clean infrastructure for our essential daily living activities, like recycling, transportation, electricity, heat and water.
The people who live in Boulder want to create a community electric utility (as 29 other Colorado communities have done, including Longmont and Colorado Springs) so we can get more than what the bottom-line marketplace can provide… and that is a green infrastructure.
There is no risk in continued research to see if we can create green, community-owned infrastructure that we control to give us the most environmentally-responsible, lowest cost energy possible. There is a risk to stopping the research. It commits us to at least 20 more years of coal power with no community control. To Eco-Cycle, that is an unacceptable risk, and we urge you to vote yes on 2B and 2C.
Eco-Cycle, Executive Director, Boulder
What about natural gas?
I really have tried to get a straight answer on how issues 2B and 2C affect the supply, management and billing of that other energy source most Boulder residents also rely upon: gas, primarily for residential and commercial heating. I can’t speak for others, but 40 percent of my utility charges from Xcel are for residential gas.
Why is gas seemingly not addressed in current considerations, or is it part and parcel, just not spelled out in the proposals? It will definitely affect my vote for or against municipalization. If we are considering efficiency, the idea that both energy programs be administered by the same agency seems very practical.
One provider, one monthly billing, one team of technical support, one agency handling maintenance and rights of way for utilities improvement seems the best solution and is the way it’s accomplished right now. Yet we hear no one supporting this method. Why?
My vote would be strongly in favor of a consolidated energy approach and I will likely vote up or down on that basis.
Daily Camera Letters to the Editor
Posted: 10/22/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Xcel trying to muddy debate
Xcel’s campaign against municipalization of our electric power has followed the tried and true industry playbook: generate fear, split communities and cast doubt rather than argue merits.
This worked well for the tobacco industry in staving off regulation and for the oil industry in creating doubt regarding global warming. The public relations key is to use terms such as “experts disagree,” “it’s complicated,” and “we don’t have enough data.”
With ballot issues 2B and 2C, Xcel doesn’t try to convince the public that it is the best choice, but merely tries to muddy the debate with “risks to service reliability,” “no guarantees,” “major questions remain,” and “blank check.”
As Boulder electric customers, we have the opportunity to keep more of our energy dollars in our own community rather than — for example — seeing Xcel spend $3 million each year for naming rights to the “Xcel Energy Center” in St. Paul, Minn., (site of the 2008 GOP National Convention and home to the Minnesota Wild).
City attorney: Xcel can’t practice ‘rate discrimination’ in Boulder
Utility says it will go to PUC if voters approve 2B, 2C
By Laura Snider Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 10/21/2011 07:56:34 PM MDT
Boulder’s city attorney said Friday he doesn’t think Xcel Energy could legally ban customers from programs offering solar rebates and wind power if voters approve the creation of a municipal utility.
Xcel regional vice president Jerome Davis said Tuesday that the company “may have no choice but to discontinue” access to a variety of its programs for Boulder residents if two ballot issues pass on Nov. 1 giving the city the green light to break free from Xcel and form its own utility.
“The simple fact is that state law prohibits rate discrimination,” City Attorney Tom Carr wrote in an email to the City Council’s hotline.
“The power of the (Public Utilities Commission) to regulate rates extends beyond just discrimination to reasonableness,” he wrote. “Whatever the outcome of the election, Boulder residents and businesses will continue to be Xcel Energy customers for some period of time. Xcel would have a tough time demonstrating that it is reasonable to discriminate against its Boulder customers.”
Carr’s email was in response to a request from City Councilwoman Crystal Gray, who asked whether the statement made by Xcel earlier in the week was consistent with the policies of the PUC, which regulates the utility.
Xcel’s statement warned that the company could discontinue access to programs including Solar Rewards and Windsource, as well as its SaversSwitch program, which offers customers a $40 annual credit in return for permission to shut off their air conditioners during peak demand on especially hot summer days.
Carr argues that SaversSwitch and WindSource programs shouldn’t be much of an issue because both require a relatively low commitment from all customers — SaversSwitch participants can leave the program at any time, and the new Windsource structure proposed by Xcel would allow customers to quit the program with only 30 days’ notice.
But the Solar Rewards program, which offers customers cash rebates up front and payments over time, must sign a 20-year contract, according to Xcel.
Carr said the city “anticipates that it will need to work with Xcel on a fair system to protect Solar Rewards customers.”
Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said the utility plans to go to the PUC at some point in the future if ballot issues 2B and 2C pass and ask the commissioners how they should treat Boulder customers.
“It’s more about the customers who stay with us,” he said. “All of our customers pay to support these programs. If we reach a point where it appears that the customers we have in Boulder will be leaving by way of municipalization, why would you continue to invest those dollars from all our customers in customers who are leaving?”
Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letters to the Editor – Daily Camera
Posted: 10/21/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Disingenuous claims by Xcel
On Tuesday, Xcel Energy issued a press release that claimed, among other things, that should Boulder voters move forward with consideration of municipalization, “we may have no choice but to discontinue, in Boulder, our Solar*Rewards, SaversSwitch, energy efficiency and conservation programs, as well as our proposed new long-term Windsource program.”
It’s worth remembering that the only reason that Xcel Energy can claim any leadership related to renewable energy is because it’s the law. Quite simply, the voters in the state passed Amendment 37 by referendum in 2004 requiring Xcel to acquire wind, solar and other renewables. It’s also worth remembering that Xcel Energy also spent heavily to try and defeat that measure, but they were unsuccessful.
I, for one, hope that they are unsuccessful in their current attempts to mislead the voters. Their current campaign provides few facts, but rather relies on disingenuous advertising and “grassroots” front organizations.
It is the most base form of political dialogue: fear-mongering. By suggesting that a municipal utility would be unreliable, costly and more polluting, they do a disservice to the utility industry at large and to the integrity of political discourse. (I don’t see headlines about the lights going out in Fort Collins or Colorado Springs.)
This latest statement takes their tactics one step past clouding the facts and into the realm of outright threat. If we are going to have a debate, my hope is that it’s based on facts, not innuendo. A “yes” vote allows us to see what the real costs look like, allows federal regulators to verify them and gives us the chance to have an open, transparent conversation.
But if Xcel insists on avoiding the facts, then let’s remember what has motivated them in the past — changing the law.
Please join me in voting “yes” on 2B and 2C.
Editorial: Paint the town green, Boulder
By The Denver Post
Posted: 10/20/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Colorado may have one of the nation’s most ambitious renewable energy standards for investor utilities, but green energy enthusiasts in Boulder think the city could do better if it operated its own municipal utility. We say, go for it. If there is a better arena than Boulder for the aggressive pursuit of a low-carbon agenda, we can’t think of it.
Boulder voters are being asked to approve two ballot measures, one authorizing the city to establish a utility and the other providing funds to explore that option and to plan for it. If Ballot Issues 2B and 2C actually committed Boulder to creating a utility, we’d be the first to decry the idea as folly. But they do no such thing.
If it turns out that startup costs are too high — because Boulder must pay more for existing infrastructure than projected or because courts side with Xcel Energy on disputes involving other investments — then the city can still pull the plug.
At that point, admittedly, Boulder will be out whatever it has spent over the years in research, planning and legal action — a sum that will hardly be trivial. Voters should clearly understand this risk. They should realize they could end up paying nearly $2 million in additional taxes annually through 2017 and end up back where they started — depending on Xcel for electricity.
Xcel maintains Boulder has severely low-balled likely expenses. If the city is determined to create its own utility, Xcel insists, it will owe the company hundreds of millions of dollars for purchasing the electric distribution system and for “stranded costs” involving investments made for the benefit of Boulder, not to mention SmartGridCity and other assets. If Xcel is even close to correct, the city’s dream will surely founder.
But neither Xcel nor Boulder is the arbiter of these questions, which will be decided by the courts and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If Boulder officials have made a good-faith effort up to this point to assess the viability of a municipal utility, then the city should have a reasonable shot at success.
Just to be clear, our attitude toward these ballot measures is no reflection on Xcel. The company is a national leader in renewable energy and boasts a strong record in reliability and resource planning. But if a majority in a community the size of Boulder believes they can shift to green fuel sources even faster than the state’s mandate of 30 percent by 2020, while dispensing altogether with reliance on coal — and do so without compromising competitive rates or reliability — we see no reason not to strike out on their own.
Boulder may discover that boosting reliance on renewables much above 30 percent just isn’t responsible or cost-effective given today’s technologies, but even that will be a useful revelation. And it will have been reached by the community itself, not the legislature, the Public Utilities Commission, or Xcel.
Xcel threatens to cut solar rebates, energy-efficiency programs for Boulder customers
PUC spokesman says all Xcel customers are entitled to programs
By Laura Snider Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 10/18/2011 08:30:12 PM MDT
Xcel Energy officials warned Tuesday that there are “consequences” to Boulder voters approving ballot issues 2B and 2C, including the possibility that local customers would lose access to the utility’s solar rebates and energy-efficiency programs — though it’s not clear that such a move would be permitted by regulators.
The warning was part of a news release sent out by company officials Tuesday afternoon announcing how much Xcel has spent so far to fight the ballot measures, which ask voters for permission to break from Xcel and start a municipal utility.
Campaign finance filings were due to the city clerk’s office Tuesday, and they show that the two issue committees opposing municipalization — the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition and Xcel Energy — have so far spent $660,996 compared with the $67,563 spent by the four groups that support the ballot measures.
If Boulder voters approve 2B and 2C, it will likely take years before the full costs of cutting ties with Xcel Energy can be determined by regulators and the court system. If the costs are too great, the City Council could decide to abandon municipalization and stick with Xcel.
In the interim, Xcel will consider denying its Boulder customers access to some of its voluntary programs, according to Jerome Davis, a regional vice president for Xcel Energy and treasurer of the utility’s issue committee.
“Voters should be aware that measures 2B and 2C do not open, but instead, close options for the city,” Davis said in the news release. “And it is misleading to say there are no adverse consequences if 2B and 2C are approved. For example, during the five or more years it will take to form the utility, we may have no choice but to discontinue, in Boulder, our Solar*Rewards, SaversSwitch, energy efficiency and conservation programs, as well as our proposed new long-term Windsource program.”
Boulder customers make up about 5 percent of Xcel’s annual sales, but they make up 16 percent of Windsource purchases, 20 percent of rooftop solar installations and 7 percent of energy-efficiency rebates, according to a consultant hired by the city.
Cutting Boulder residents off from those programs would require approval by the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Xcel. But PUC spokesman Terry Bote said Tuesday that all Xcel customers have the right to sign up for the programs, which are paid for through customer fees.
“As long as Xcel is providing service to Boulder customers, those customers are entitled to participate in any program offered in the company’s approved tariff,” he wrote in an email.
Boulder Mayor Susan Osborne called Xcel’s threat to ban Boulder customers from participating in the voluntary programs “a transparent ploy by a desperate corporation.”
“The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent hasn’t worked to sway Boulder voters, so now we’re told that programs funded from our utility bills won’t be available to us,” she said in an email. “I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. Passing 2B and 2C will give us options and needed leverage in negotiations with a corporation like this.”
Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said this is the first time the city has heard from Xcel that it would consider trying to exclude Boulder customers from those programs. She also said city staffers are now investigating “the legal and regulatory processes that the company would need to go through to enact these changes.”
“Customers in Boulder have paid into these programs and would likely continue to do so in any interim period even if voters approved further exploration of the costs related to municipalization,” she said. “These types of programs have significant value to Boulder customers; therefore, replacement costs have been included in the city’s initial business model for any Boulder-owned and operated electric utility.”
Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or email@example.com.
Daily Camera Letters to the Editor
Posted: 10/19/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Bringing jobs back to Boulder
With our technological prowess and amazing climate, Boulder is in a unique position to be a global leader in the development and implementation of clean, renewable, cost-effective energy. Voting “yes” on 2B and 2C is the gateway to this possibility.
Xcel has proven time and time again to not be a trustworthy partner and their actions have led to job losses in the Boulder area. With its over-budget “smart grid” city program, Xcel has provided little or no benefit to the residents of Boulder. Yet, Xcel wants to recover its cost overruns through higher rates.
Xcel’s unilateral suspension of the Solar Rewards program this past February resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs in the Boulder/Denver area. For 2012, Xcel has proposed a plan that could further impact jobs by again reducing the amount of solar they will allow. As a member of the leadership team for one of Boulder’s oldest and now-defunct solar businesses, I can attest firsthand to the damaging effects of Xcel’s actions.
Over the next decade, we will see a great deal of technological advancement in the generation and storage of clean energy. Not only can Boulder take advantage of this innovation being a municipal utility we can attract new investment and jobs to the area by being a leader in the development of these new technologies.
These will be good jobs in research and development, manufacturing and service. It will be very difficult to attract this type of investment to the Boulder area if we are not willing to be a model city for the rest of the country and the world.
Let’s allow Boulder to be a global powerhouse for new energy. Bring jobs back to Boulder. Vote “yes” on 2B and 2C.
From the Colorado Daily
Posted: 10/16/2011 11:00:14 PM MDT
Peace Train: Boulder’s Eco-Cycle supports the efforts of community electric utility
By Eric Lombardi For the Colorado Daily
The Board and Staff at Eco-Cycle, your local nonprofit zero-waste enterprise, are supporting the effort to continue analyzing the path toward a community electric utility.
Despite what Xcel seems to be implying, a YES vote does NOT mean that Boulder is definitely creating a city utility. It means only that we can continue the process already begun of serious due-diligence to help City Council make the best decision in the future.
The potential benefits of a community electric utility are real, and so are the concerns,
But we must keep moving forward on developing this idea before we make a final decision. Only a YES vote on 2B and 2C will allow that. WITHOUT a YES vote, our options are closed, the information gathering will stop, and we just have to take what Xcel gives us.
There are no risks to a YES vote. This is not the “big decision” to create a city electric utility. That decision awaits us in the future. Don’t buy the fear that XCEL is selling — we are not a “can’t do” community, we are a “can do” community, and that requires our minds to be open and focused on creating a better Boulder.
Why would a resource conservation organization like Eco-Cycle care about this issue?
Because we care about all topics critical to our mission. We support the community desire to create local clean infrastructure for our essential daily living activities, like recycling, transportation, electricity, heat and water. The people who live in Boulder want to create a community electric utility, (as 29 other Colorado communities already are, including Longmont and Colorado Springs) so we can get more than what the bottom-line marketplace can provide… and that is a GREEN infrastructure. There is no risk in continued research to see if we can create a green, community-owned infrastructure to give us the most environmentally responsible, lowest cost energy possible. There IS a risk to stopping the research. It commits us to at least 20 more years of coal power with no community control.
To Eco-Cycle, that is an unacceptable risk, and we urge you to vote YES on 2B and 2C.
Eric Lombardi is Boulder Eco-Cycle’s executive director.
The Blue Line
October 17, 2001
Staying with Xcel Is Too Risky
By Ben Harding
I support Ballot Issues 2B and 2C because staying with Xcel is too risky. Whoa, you say, that’s not what I’ve heard. That’s because what you’ve heard is what Xcel has spent half a million dollars, so far, to tell you. The next time you get a slick mailer with a dire message from the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, remember that these “concerned citizens” have gotten $250,000 (so far) from Xcel. Full disclosure: I’m not getting paid a penny to write this.
The truth is that there are a number of bad things that could happen if Boulder stays with Xcel. Some are catastrophic, and less likely, but some bad things are virtually certain to happen. The first, and worst, is that Boulder citizens will continue to subsidize growth elsewhere in the state. Colorado is projected to double in size to between 9 and 10 million people by 2050. Xcel will build many new, large generating facilities to serve its share of 5,000,000 new electricity consumers, and these facilities will be built well in advance of need and will be paid for by existing Xcel customers, including the citizens of Boulder. But, that growth might not happen, you say. That’s even worse–Boulder will be stuck paying off plants that have no customers. It’s a lose-lose proposition and is certain to occur if we stick with Xcel.
Another bad thing is that Boulder will certainly continue to pay profits to Xcel shareholders and bonuses to its management, only a very small portion of which will return to Xcel shareholders who happen to live in Boulder. And, Xcel’s administrative costs will continue to leave Boulder (their headquarters are in Minneapolis).
Things could get even worse. Xcel is a publicly traded company, and investors, who set share prices, demand quarter-to-quarter revenue growth. There is no guarantee that Xcel management won’t make decisions that increase our electric rates and compromise reliability in order to feed that growth addition. Pshaw, you say? In fact, just such a thing happened to Montana Power, which would have been a 100-year-old company if it had survived until next year. Bored by by life in a regulated utility, MPC’s CEO, with help from Goldman Sachs and some slick lobbying, got a last-minute bill passed by the Montana Legislature to de-regulate electricity. MPC sold all of its generation and transmission assets and all of its natural gas infrastructure and got out of the utility business altogether. It invested the money in a small fiber optic firm called Touch America, which soon was worth pennies on the dollar. In Butte, the last working copper mine was forced to close when electricity rates increased up to 20 times, and many of those folks in Montana who were faced with skyrocketing electric rates were also MPC shareholders, who now owned worthless Touch America stock. The only things standing between Boulder electric consumers and the greediest investors, managers and investment bankers are the Colorado State Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission. Not a very comforting thought.
Voting no on Ballot Issues 2B and 2C will end any effort that could prevent these bad things from happening to Boulder. I strongly urge a Yes vote on 2B and 2C to allow us to examine the costs and benefits of municipalization. Those benefits include bringing control of our electricity supply into our own community, ending our subsidy of growth elsewhere in the state, and keeping profits and administrative expenses in our local economy.
Letters to the Editor – Daily Camera
Posted: 10/15/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Boulder’s leaders are responsive
After having spent some time digesting the arguments for and against 2B and 2C, I have decided to vote for the measures and against Xcel’s campaign of fear. Here are a few of the factors that helped me make the decision.
The idea that Boulder cannot create and operate a reliable and efficient utility seems disproven by the fact that there are many cities across this country that do just that. There is an informative website at utilityconnection.com/page2e.asp, which lists many of them.
If Longmont, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and rural communities who receive their power through Rural Electric Administrations can do it, I have to believe Boulder can, too. We have good schools, decent infrastructure, excellent outdoor planning and a responsive city government (maybe a bit too responsive for my taste). The idea that Boulder would fail in the utility business ignores our many successes and those of other communities.
Consider why Xcel has launched a slick and very negative public relations campaign against the measures. Like all utilities, Xcel is guaranteed a return on its investment that is paid, of course, by the ratepayers — us. That rate can be as high as 10-12 percent on Xcel’s assets, year in and year out.
In other words, the utility business is quite profitable and safe. Though gas prices at the wellhead have declined by 50 percent in the past few years, I haven’t seen my utility bill go down. It’s gone up. I would rather keep any profit in our community, rather than sending it to Xcel’s out-of-state headquarters. By the way, have you visited Xcel’s new corporate office tower in Denver’s LoDo? Looks like business is darn good.
Then I think that this is a time where we need to live our values. If we want to reduce our share of the world’s pollution, this is a good place to start. Boulder was in the forefront in creating open space for the people to use and prohibiting smoking in public places. The doomsday predictions of what those changes would bring never panned out. I am confident that a vote for 2B and 2C is what we should do for ourselves, our families and our community.
Letter to the editor
The Politics of the PUC
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulates Xcel Energy; they have final say over the rates that the company is allowed to charge, and which investments they make in our energy future. In the past four years, the CPUC has approved 3 rate increases. The commission also allowed Xcel to build the state’s largest coal-fired power plant — Comanche 3 — at a cost of nearly one billion dollars, waiving their own rule that such large projects be bid out competitively. By doing so, they handed Xcel a windfall profit. Now Xcel wants to double down its long-term bets on coal by spending nearly $400 million to refurbish the aging Pawnee and Hayden power plants, tying Colorado to this polluting and climate damaging fuel for decades to come, and making all of us pay for the privilege of burning it.
The CPUC is allowing Xcel Energy to make choices that are bad for our rates, good for their profits, and which degrade our environment both locally and globally. Furthermore, the commission has — at Xcel’s request — begun barring citizen participation in their proceedings. Decisions about our rates, fuel mix, and the huge capital expenditures made on our behalf thus stand to be approved without any direct public participation. If we stick with Xcel, we will be stuck with this impenetrable regulatory system indefinitely. In contrast, the governance of a local Boulder utility would be far more accountable, accessible, and transparent. It would not involve constantly battling a well funded corporate adversary. It would be able to reflect Boulder’s core values of sustainability and innovation. We would also be able to effectively leverage our vibrant community of clean energy entrepreneurs.
We have vastly more access to our City Council and the commissioners they appoint than we will ever be able to get at state level. Whatever decisions are made locally, we can be confident that our community will have a voice in the process and truly influence the outcome. Vote Yes on 2B and 2C and give us the power to control our own energy future!
Amy Guinan and Zane Selvans
Boulder, Co Residents
Letters to the Editor: Daily Camera
The power to negotiate
Posted: 10/14/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
The passage of 2B and 2C is critical for Boulder to wrest control over its energy future. These measures will allow the city to study and — only if cost effective — start us on the path toward a renewable energy focused future.
If 2B and 2C fail Xcel will retain its coal-based monopoly on the city’s energy future. In the media fog of the Xcel-funded media blitz to raise doubts about the ability of the city of Boulder to run an electric utility, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the city already runs utilities.
For example, our water supply utility is cost-effectively run by the city and even generates a small amount of hydro-power (providing roughly $2.5 million in revenue in 2010). A municipality running an electric utility is not uncommon as there are many similarly situated municipalities that also run their community’s electric utility.
At the end of the day, if 2B and 2C pass, and even if the city determines that it is not cost effective to take over the electric utility, the city will have greatly increased its ability to negotiate future contracts with Xcel that favor city priorities and policies — policies that work to expand our mix of renewable and low carbon energy sources.
If 2B and 2C fail, we can look forward to higher costs to support Xcel’s — and our — coal addiction. Please support passage of 2B and 2C.
Utility fights dirty in city’s battle for clean local energy
by John Farrell
12 Oct 2011 2:52 PM
In just three weeks, citizens of Boulder, CO, will vote on whether to begin a big, formal process to unplug from Xcel Energy’s system and plug into local energy self-reliance. The vote to form a municipal electric utility could set a precedent for communities across the United States to keep millions of dollars local instead of sending them to remote electric utilities each year.
The vote on ballot measures 2B and 2C is the culmination of a multi-year struggle by the city of Boulder meet the Kyoto greenhouse gas emission targets by getting less coal power and more renewable energy from its investor-owned utility.
At every turn, the utility has stalled local efforts.
When the city first considered municipalization, Xcel offered to finance and build a local smart grid but has since been allowed by the state’s public utility commission to charge Coloradans for significant cost overruns. When the city asked Xcel to bring in more clean energy, the utility offered to build a new wind plant and import its power from across the state only if Boulder citizens agreed to pay more when the wind blew and pay when it didn’t, too. Despite the ill nature of the offer, the city offered to put it on the ballot along with a vote to municipalize, but Xcel refused, demanding that the city also offer citizens a separate “status quo” measure.
In contrast, a Boulder-owned utility offers enormous clean energy and economic opportunity without having to beg a big, private company. The city could increase renewable energy production by 40% from multiple, local sources without increasing rates, according to a citizen-led peer reviewed study. The economic value of local energy ownership would multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
But with $100 million a year in revenues from Boulder ratepayers on the line, Xcel’s fight is getting as dirty as its nearby Cherokee coal plant. Xcel has dumped over $450,000 into a vote no campaign, 10 times the expenditures of the grassroots groups supporting the municipalization ballot measure. The utility’s front group has flogged a web advertisement that falsely asserts that electricity will be unreliable if the city has control, even though 1 in 7 Americans gets their (reliable) electricity from municipal utilities. Xcel has posted job notices on light poles offering residents up to $12 an hour to work as “grassroots” utility flaks. And in a purely spiteful move, Xcel also succeeded in banning Boulder resident Leslie Glustrom from participating at the Public Utilities Commission, where she had asked tough questions about Xcel’s new coal power plants and proposed rate increases.
Locals are fighting back. Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future has organized a crack team of technical and financial experts to model the impact of the municipal utility and is pounding the pavement to counter Xcel’s campaign of misinformation. The coalition has received endorsements from dozens of local elected officials and businesses, two local newspapers, and nearly one thousand residents. Even President Obama’s former green jobs advisor Van Jones starred in a video endorsing Boulder’s effort for local energy self-reliance.
The battle for local control isn’t just in Boulder. Recently a number of Massachusetts towns have pursued municipal electric plants when the private electric company took too long to restore power after Hurricane Irene. And in nearby Longmont, CO, citizens may vote to use their existing fiber optic network to provide better internet broadband services (if citizens can overcome the $250,000 being spent by private providers CenturyLink and Comcast).
The stakes are high. Buying electricity from Xcel sends $100 million out of the Boulder economy each year, and helps perpetuate a centrally-controlled grid reliant on coal-fired power (and often hostile to wind power). Ratepayers across America may not have the chance to weigh in on Boulder’s vote this November, but they should watch intently (and donate if they like), because Boulder citizens may be firing the first “shot heard round the world” for local control of their clean energy future.
John Farrell is an Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) senior researcher specializing in energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. He has written extensively on the economies of scale of renewable energy, the benefits of decentralized energy generation, and the policies and rules that support locally owned and distributed generation of renewable energy. His seminal work – Energy Self-Reliant States gave a vision of states meeting their energy needs with in-state sun and wind and spawned a rapidly expanding distributed generation resource: http://energyselfreliantstates.org. He also wrote one of the leading summaries of feed-in tariffs for the U.S. electricity policy market titled, Feed-in Tariffs in America: Driving the Economy with Renewable Energy Policy that Works.
Opportunity to negotiate with Xcel
Posted: 10/12/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Will Toor’s letter to the editor of Oct. 8 correctly notes that passage of ballot issues 2B/2C would put the city in the driver’s seat for negotiations with Xcel. This is probably the most compelling rationale for wholehearted citizen support for 2B/2C regardless of your position on municipalization.
If you are among those who oppose municipalization but would prefer some kind of hybrid option in collaboration with Xcel, wouldn’t you want the stronger negotiating position that passage of 2B/2C will provide?
Some might agree with that but still be concerned that 2B/2C represents a so-called “blank check.” This fear is unfounded. The Camera’s “Municipalization fact-checking” of Oct. 10 confirms that there are strong safeguards on our municipal’s rates and that Xcel projects its own rates to increase substantially.
Some might argue that the Public Utilities Commission, a remote body, is a more reliable “stopper” for rate increases than a local elected City Council. This also doesn’t hold water. I’ve lived here 30 years and have never seen Boulder voters fail to show up and summarily dump council members who get out of line with public sentiment.
Some claim that an Xcel franchise would provide more renewables than the city going it alone. This too is not credible. Xcel’s over-capitalization in coal plants (see Anne Butterfield’s Oct. 8 op-ed) will seriously limit its ability to diversify aggressively into alternative energy. With the passage of 2B/2C, Boulder will have much greater flexibility to provide renewables either as a muni, or under some hybrid arrangement negotiated with Xcel.
All this leads to one conclusion: Voting for 2B/2C has very few risks and many benefits. It is an essential next step in achieving our energy goals regardless of whether the final outcome involves a municipal utility or some other hybrid arrangement. Please join me in voting yes.
Brad D. Segal
Boulder municipalization fact-checking:
Rate parity with Xcel: Would City Council be required to keep rates similar to Xcel’s?
By Laura Snider Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 10/09/2011 01:00:00 PM MDT
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series that checks the accuracy of statements made by both sides of the debate over whether Boulder should break from Xcel Energy and form its own municipal utility. In November, Boulder voters will be asked to weigh in on Issues 2B and 2C, which would give the City Council the go-ahead to begin the process of municipalizing.
The claims: The Boulder Smart Energy Coalition claims that “the city cannot guarantee that its rates will be competitive,” while the Boulder Smarter Energy Coalition — a tongue-in-cheek-named group on the opposite side of the debate — says rates for a municipal utility would not be “allowed to be more than the rates offered by Xcel Energy at the time of acquisition.”
The facts: Ballot Issue 2C asks voters to generally grant the city of Boulder the authority to create a municipal utility. But that authority has strings attached. The ballot language says Boulder can only create its own electric utility if the City Council “determines that it can acquire the electrical distribution system in Boulder and charge rates that do not exceed those rates charged by Xcel Energy at the time of acquisition.”
Technically, a future City Council could change the utility’s rates once it’s up and running, but additional regulations, referenced in 2C, would set guidelines for how future leaders should set rates. If voters approve Issue 2C, they will also be approving a charter amendment that outlines six principles that the City Council must keep in mind while making decisions about utility operation, including “fiscal responsibility.” The charter amendment says, in part, “The utility will, while always honoring its obligations to bondholders, strive to maintain rate parity with any investor-owned utility whose service area would include the City of Boulder.”
Other principles for operating the utility would include reliable energy, clean energy, ratepayer equity, environmental stewardship and managing the utility as an “enterprise,” as defined by state law.
The City Council could increase rates to some degree after the utility has been formed and potentially still maintain rate parity with Xcel Energy. That’s because Xcel projects its own rates to increase 34 percent between 2010 and 2020 and another 34 percent between 2020 and 2030.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leverage to negotiate with Xcel
Posted: 10/08/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT, Daily Camera Letters
I am not sold on municipalization, but am voting for ballot issues 2B and 2C — and think others should too. Why?
It is not because Xcel is a terrible company — in fact, they are one of the best investor-owned utilities in the country. Since 2004 they have supported increasing the renewable energy requirement to 30 percent, supported the Clean Air/Clean Jobs bill to retire aging coal plants and supported some good energy efficiency legislation. But, as good as all this is, it isn’t enough to meet Boulder’s goals.
Boulder has adopted a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that requires higher levels of renewable energy, and greater investments in energy efficiency, than we will get through Xcel’s system-wide programs. Reaching these goals requires that we do something different.
Rejecting 2B and 2C and accepting the status quo would be a step backwards on our environmental commitments and would limit the economic benefit we get from being a leader in clean energy innovation.
A vote for 2B and 2C is not a vote to municipalize — rather it is a vote to move to the next phase of evaluating how Boulder can best meet the goals of increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency while maintaining competitive rates. Boulder can’t get the information that is required to evaluate the potential costs and benefits of municipalization without a yes vote on 2B and 2C.
It is possible (perhaps likely) that a negotiated agreement with Xcel is the best way forward, rather than municipalizing — but if 2B and 2C fail, Xcel has no incentive to negotiate. If they pass, they will have a strong incentive to sit down with the city and negotiate an agreement that meets Xcel’s business needs and the city’s goals. Please vote yes on ballot issues 2B and 2C.
Daily Camera Letters to the editor
October 7, 2011
Fear pandering on energy issue
Hap Pitkin’s political cartoon (Camera, Oct. 4) effectively pointed to Xcel’s use of money and fear to defeat ballot issues 2B and 2C.
From all the fancy mailers, web advertisements and paid “volunteers,” it’s clear that Xcel and its partner, the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, have extensive funds to fight against Boulder’s best interests (spending 10 times what local “for” groups have spent). Xcel’s money comes from our bills.
It is important to separate the facts from the fears Xcel is pushing.
1) Rates — Fear: The city’s rates would skyrocket. Facts: The initial rates from a Boulder utility cannot be higher than Xcel’s rates. Xcel’s own rates have risen 20 percent in the last four years and are likely to continue to rise, due to their vulnerability to coal costs. Xcel takes $14-$20 million dollars from Boulder each year in profit. The municipal will be nonprofit.
2) Reliability — Fear: The lights will go out. Facts: Xcel’s reliability is lower than many other Colorado utilities. All Front Range municipal utilities have better reliability than Xcel has in Boulder.
3) Renewables — Fear: We won’t really get more renewables. Facts: Increasingly, Xcel shuts off wind power and burns coal instead. This cost us $3.8 million in 2010. A city utility, using gas-powered electricity, could lower our carbon footprint right away and also provide a platform for ramping up renewables much more rapidly and to a higher level than Xcel can.
4) Governance — Fear: The city can’t run it. Facts: The city won’t run it. It will be run by professionals overseen by a board of citizen and business representatives who are interested in keeping rates competitive and reliability high.
Don’t let money and unfounded fears determine this election. Get informed, get active and get out and vote yes on 2B and 2C.
Why is Xcel so nervous?
Thursday, October 6,2011, Boulder Weekly Letters
I don’t know much about powerplant municipalization, nor do I care deeply about the ultimate fate of the Valmont Power Station. And I don’t have an axe to grind with Xcel, either. They’ve sent me electricity, I’ve paid my bills, and they’ve never tried to pull anything outrageously stupid like the phone companies always seem to be trying. They even sent me a rebate on solar panels.
However, it is troubling to see the disproportionate money spent on ads to convince me against the change. Clearly, someone is going to lose a lot of money if this comes to pass, and I’ll wager that “person” is Xcel. It’s insulting to see the parade of fake “citizens” and “environmental consultants” popping up in ads on Facebook and in the papers, warning me of the deep dark dangers that lurk beneath the surface of this very scary and complicated issue. Judging solely from the intensity and lopsidedness of the P.R. campaign, I can only conclude that Xcel has conducted a decades-long fraud, charging far more than their services are worth, and pocketing the substantial difference.
The history of municipal power doesn’t seem to support the fear-mongering. To me, it’s simply a tradeoff — would you prefer that the city run your power plant, or Xcel? I suspect that choice would be executed competently, with the municipal flavor tending slightly towards a more low-carbon emphasis, such as a quicker conversion of coal to natural gas.
But really, this isn’t a sky-is-falling change. Unless you are Xcel, apparently, and your free lunch is going away.
Local jobs that could be created
Posted on September 28, 2011 by Camera staff
Census data shows that Boulder residents have recently suffered an average income decrease of 15 percent. This is due to declines in employment and wages. I noticed that our electric bill payments to Xcel Energy go to an office in Minneapolis. A search of Xcel’s website and the Yellow Pages did not reveal any Xcel offices in Boulder.
To get an idea of what kind of jobs could be created in Boulder if the city created a municipal power department I visited the website of another local city to see what kinds of workers they employ in their electrical utility department. I was even able to see their wages.
Most of these jobs paid solid middle-class salaries. Here is a list of the jobs that might be created in a city municipal power department: civil engineers, utility project manager, service coordinator, systems operator, substation specialists, line maintenance workers, street light maintenance workers, meter readers, energy assessment team workers, energy advisors, budget and finance workers, accountants, billing clerks, administrative assistants, customer service clerks and management.
If you believe in supporting local jobs that pay good wages to support our community, it is clear that supporting 2B and 2C would create many good jobs and keep more money circulating within Boulder.
Bill Briggs: Educate yourselves on energy municipalization
Posted on September 27, 2011 by Camera staff
Yesterday, a young worker for the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition (BSEC) came to
my door. He didn’t introduce himself, so let’s call him Jim. Jim was a nice guy and I listened while he recited his scripted talking points about why ballot initiatives 2B/ 2C are bad ideas— unlimited bonding authority, exorbitant utility bills, vague ballot language, and no City experience running a utility. Then we had a conversation during which he began to doubt much of what he had told me. (“Oh, I didn’t know that.”) After I asked him a few questions, he also realized that he didn’t understand all of the issues involved. (“What are revenue bonds? PUC?”) The conversation ended cordially with Jim taking notes on the homework he needed to do. Clearly, Jim did not have enough education for his job.
Jim is one of 20-30 canvassers paid about $400 per week by BSEC with funds from
Xcel Energy and its supporters. With very little training and knowledge, their goal
is to take their fearful, misleading message door-to-door to every voter in the City.
BSEC is also spreading that same message to Boulder voters through glossy flyers,
large newspaper spreads, and TV/internet ads. The money that BSEC is spending to
get your vote is staggering—an order of magnitude greater than the budget of the
volunteer committee that supports 2B/2C (RenewablesYES.org).
As an educator, I hope this election will be determined by education and not by
money. Voters will not get educated on this complex issue by listening to BSEC
door-knockers and reading their glib, factless flyers. As a voter, please find time to become informed. Read the City’s objective pamphlet Know Your Power, read the
impartial feasibility reports by outside experts, and visit web sites and talk to people on both sides of the issue. Regardless of how you vote, please make it an informed choice.
Xcel campaign is insulting to residents
Posted on September 23, 2011 by Camera staff
The expensive mailer recently dropped on every household in Boulder by the Xcel front group, the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, along with their slick TV ads, embody a time-worn tactic intended to spread fear and uncertainty regarding Boulder’s attempt to replace Xcel with a locally run electrical utility.
Possessing no substantive arguments against the municipal electric idea, Xcel and its hired apologists must resort to pseudo-rationales that are fundamentally baseless and demeaning not just to the city government but also to all Boulder residents.
The Xcel claim that irks me most is the empty assertion that a Boulder owned and operated utility poses “risks to service reliability.” Xcel, do you really mean to tell the people of Boulder that our city is the only one among 29 cities in Colorado and hundreds nationwide that is incapable of running its own electrical utility?
That’s right, Xcel has the nerve to claim Boulder, whose residents include more Ph.D.s and scientists than nearly any other city in the country, cannot reliably operate a municipal electric when Loveland, Estes Park, Lyons, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs among others have done so for years with equal or greater reliably than Xcel. Give me a freakin’ break!
Another measure of a city’s “reliability” is its bond rating. Bond ratings tell investors how safe it is to lend to a business or government. Boulder’s prime AAA bond rating not only outstrips that of the U.S. government, it is above that of debt-ridden Xcel. Now, who would you trust with your money, Boulder or Xcel?
Xcel and their paid flacks’ baseless and self-serving blather that the city of Boulder cannot reliably run its own electric system is a gross insult to all Boulder residents.
Steps towards a municipal utility
Posted on September 20, 2011 by Camera staff
I am in favor of a properly designed municipal electrical utility for Boulder, provided that it be entered into carefully. I will have no difficulty in voting for 2B and 2C which are steps along the way. Why?
I grew up in Douglas County, Washington, a rather poor agricultural county. It has a Public Utility District (PUD), not a municipal utility. The current cost of a kilowatt hour is 2.63 cents. Owning a dam on the Columbia River certainly keeps costs down. Yes, dams have their problems, but let’s not get side-tracked here.
Our August Xcel bill lists the price for the first 500 kwhs as 4.6 cents, but energy use above that is 9 cents per kwh. Additional charges amount to 5 cents per kwh, so the real cost is 9.6 cents and 14 cents per kwh. Boulder residents pay a lot to Xcel for our electricity.
In Washington state, when other counties later on attempted to form PUDs and cities form municipal utilities, the local power companies would spend a lot of money advertizing against such moves. They were, after all, faced with losing market-share and a reduction in profits. Too often the power companies won because they used scare-tactics.
I see the same pattern going on here in Boulder. Xcel can afford to spend a lot of money on an election because it makes a lot of money off of the residents of Boulder. The fear-theme is obvious: How much will it cost? Will the city council do it right? Will Boulder eventually charge more than Xcel would have? Will service be as good? This are concerns, but, again, let’s not get side-tracked.
Voting for 2B and 2C are steps along the way only.
Guest commentary: Boulder already operates city utilities
By Lisa Buchanan
Posted: 09/15/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Boulder already operates three utilities, and they run so well that we mostly don’t think about them. So when thinking about Ballot Issue 2C, authorizing Boulder City Council to create a local electrical utility and issue bonds, and Ballot Issue 2B, a temporary increase in the Boulder Occupation tax to fund final legal and engineering studies, it’s worth remembering that we have been doing this in other areas for over a hundred years. Also, 29 other cities in Colorado already run their own electric utilities, including our neighbors Longmont, Lyons, Loveland, Fort Collins, Estes Park, and Colorado Springs.
The Utilities Division of the City of Boulder operates three utilities; Water, Wastewater, and Stormwater/Flood Management with a total operating budget of $27 million dollars and 155 employees. Bonds in the millions of dollars range have been issued by the City of Boulder to build and improve the infrastructure of these utilities; bonds that are paid back through charges on our water, wastewater and stormwater bills; the city’s utility bonds have a AAA rating. We have clean potable water at the tap that meets federal and state water quality standards, and we have sufficient water supply for the present and limited growth. Our wastewater is collected and treated sufficiently to meet regulatory requirements. There is an early warning system in place to warn people that the 100-year flood is approaching down the canyon. Why do our utilities work well? Because the City Council and utility management listens to Boulder citizens. In fact, your voice is heard because these are city-run utilities.
Boulder’s hydroelectric capacity is an example of how innovative ideas can be implemented under a city utility. Beginning in the mid-1980s Boulder installed small-scale hydroelectric power stations on its municipal water system pipelines that capture excess energy created by the 4,500 foot drop in elevation between Boulder’s water supply and the city. Four turbines with a combined capacity of 1.2 MW were installed at pressure relief valve locations on treated water pipelines. Ten MW of hydroelectric capacity has been installed where pressurized pipelines discharge into the Lakewood, Betasso, and Silver Lake reservoirs. Upgrades to the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Facility (BCH) add 5 MW in capacity. Environmental impacts are minimal because power generation is coupled to water supply operations. Since inception, hydroelectric revenues have paid off construction costs of the first seven hydroelectric plants and more. In 2010, Boulder produced 47,352 megawatt-hours of electricity and collected $2,463,102 in hydroelectric revenue. Innovation does pay off.
The new electric utility department would be separate from the other Boulder utilities though similar in structure. A nine-member advisory board would be appointed by the city council. Three members would be owners or employees of businesses that are customers of the electric utility. The majority of board members would be eligible Boulder voters. The Electric Utility Department would be responsible for planning, generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity and power for the city, have authority to make and execute contracts and, with its governing board, issue bonds payable solely from the net revenues of the utility. The new department would be administered by an electric utilities director who is supervised by the city manager and is experienced in the field of electric utilities and municipal engineering. In addition, both Boulder’s city manager, Jane Brautigam, and city attorney, Tom Carr, have prior experience with public electric utilities; she as city manager and city attorney of Loveland and he as city attorney for Seattle, both municipal electric utilities. See here for more information.
The City of Boulder has proven that it can and does run municipal utilities efficiently and effectively. Give innovation a chance by voting for Ballot Issues 2B and 2C.
Lisa Buchanan lives in Boulder.
Daily Camera 9/11/2011
Last week, the “not-so-smart” Boulder Smart Energy Coalition spent a lot of money to mail glossy flyers to Boulder voters opposing the energy ballot measures 2B and 2C. The photography was lovely and the faces looked friendly — but what was behind all that gloss?
The answer, in a word, is “money” — very likely corporate money — and very likely your money that you paid to Xcel every month on your bill.
Xcel has stated that they intended to fund the efforts of the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition and we can expect to see lots more glossy flyers and expensive media advertising. Xcel’s profits in Colorado last year were $399 million — up about 23 percent from their $323 million in profits in 2009 — never mind that the rest of the country is dealing with a serious recession. So Xcel has lots of money to spend and you can expect them to spend it trying to spread fear and doubt among Boulder voters.
The ballot measures that Xcel is opposing would allow Boulder to continue evaluating the process of forming a municipal utility. No final decision would be made for several more years and after extensive financial, legal and technical analysis. If costs get too high, then the ballot measures have built in safeguards that protect the city and the citizens.
Extensive modeling indicates that a Boulder municipal utility could meet or beat Xcel’s rates and reliability while greatly reducing our carbon footprint and creating a utility that relies not on last century’s coal technology but rather is poised to move forward in the 21st century. No wonder Xcel doesn’t like Boulder’s plans. They have well over a billion dollars invested in coal plants that impede adding high levels of renewable energy.
When you see what is likely to be an onslaught of slick advertising, remember that it is probably Xcel protecting their pocketbook — not yours. Vote yes on 2B and 2C. Modeling results and other information at renewablesyes.org or by writing email@example.com.
Daily Camera 9/10/2011
“A fossil-fuel civilization is a dinosaur devouring its own tail: it will eat itself to death; the only question is when.” Berman & O’Connor, “Who Owns the Sun” (1996).
Democratic public ownership is a grand idea, which is more relevant than ever. If we don’t assert local democratic control over our energy systems the “Big Boys,” like Xcel and Pacific Gas and Electric, will keep us hooked on coal, natural gas and nuclear power until global warming become irreversible and nuclear failures like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima become yearly or monthly events.
Even Wall Street and Washington, D.C., will have to say stop the madness. But in a generation so much damage will have been done that the situation may be irreversible. That is why Boulder’s RenewablesYES campaign is so important to Colorado and to America as a whole.
It is very heartening to find out that people who were campaigning for renewable energy in April 2004 when I was fortunate to visit Boulder are still active. I hope people go to RenewablesYES.org to inform themselves.
Some cities and some people have to take the first step and Boulder has the unique combination of an informed, activist citizenry to do it right. Good luck RenewablesYES! Good luck Boulder!
Daily Camera 9/02/2011
Re. Earl McGlaughin’s letter of 8/31 – First, Xcel does not pay for demand-side management (efficiency) programs – we the ratepayers do. And when Boulder tried to make energy-efficiency mandatory, guess who said they would cut off the rebates? Xcel.
Second, the utility has already once – without any notice to solar installers or the public – tried to eliminate solar rebates. This self-serving action caused many solar installers to loose their jobs as contracts were postponed or canceled. Plus, the investor-owned monopoly has proposed upping the rates that solar owners pay, negating the financial benefits of this proven renewable energy solution.
Under Xcel’s monopoly, individuals and businesses cannot install a solar system that generates more than 120% of their annual consumption. This restriction has prevented Boulder from installing and benefiting from mid-size and larger-scale solar systems in ideal solar locations.
Third, the for-profit utility has consistently shown its commitment to its shareholders, rather than the environment. Xcel fought Amendment 37 that created Colorado’’s renewable energy standard. Only a myopic dinosaur would build a billion dollar coal plant (Comanche 3 near Pueblo, finished last year) in the face of global warming. If we stick with Xcel, my kids and yours will be paying for polluting coal-fired plants for decades, damaging the environment and posing serious health risks to our children.
Instead, let’s plan a clean energy future that creates local jobs and cuts our carbon emissions dramatically. Our future is counting on us. Vote YES on 2B and 2C.
Daily Camera 9/05/2011
Coal gets in the way of renewables
As Boulder considers creating its own local electric utility, I am excited by the opportunity to move from Xcel’s coal generation to natural gas generation. Here’s what I’m excited about:
First, switching from coal to natural gas will reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent, even without adding any new renewable generation. On top of that, our projected rates in this scenario are actually lower than what we’re currently paying to Xcel. Sign me up!
Second, natural gas generators don’t need to be on at full power all the time like coal plants, so they can be turned up and down as renewable generation and electricity demand go up and down. In contrast, coal plants can’t be efficiently turned up and down, so wind generation must be curtailed when the wind plus coal generation exceeds electricity demand. (By the way, with Xcel, we keep paying for that wind energy, even if we can’t use it.)
So, natural gas generation will enable us to add more renewables to our system, and make better use of the renewables that we have.
Third, most of the cost of natural gas generation is in the fuel, while much more of the cost of coal generation is in the power plant. So, we can just use less natural gas as we get more renewables on our electric system, and as we use efficiency to reduce our electricity needs. With coal, we would still be paying off the cost of an idle coal plant.
Finally, I am optimistic that Boulder can use its leverage to purchase natural gas from suppliers who extract it responsibly.
Let’s use a source of electricity that enables us to incorporate more renewables and efficiency, rather than one that gets in the way!