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Rocky Mountain Chapter

Boulder seeks independent clean-energy future

By Karen Dike
RMC Communications Team

The city of Boulder is on an exciting path toward building a clean-energy future. Their plan moves toward 50-percent renewables and includes a path to a 100-percent, fossil-free future.

The move includes building a municipal power structure that meets the objectives for a sustainable system of energy generation for power and light. This journey started years ago when the city set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 (in accordance with the Kyoto protocol). Realizing they weren’t going to make that goal with actions they had already implemented, they decided to switch to alternative energy solutions.
 
After studying Xcel Energy’s power production, Boulder decided the best method to achieve its goal was to create its own municipal power system. The city has a clearly defined goal to decrease gas emissions while maintaining rates and reliability comparable to Xcel and to increase renewable energy. 

In 2011 a charter amendment ballot passed to authorize forming a city energy utility. A new vote is set for November 2013 to approve debt for this purpose.

However, a petition ballot amendment, backed by Xcel, is meant meant to thwart the city’s efforts to create its own municipal power utility. Why would Xcel refuse to cooperate to help Boulder lower its emissions? Most likely the answer lies in an Aug. 26, 2013, Forbes magazine article that gives this analysis of the utility industry:

“To the list of industries at risk of complete obsolescence – which at the moment includes daily newspapers, government postal services, and men-only barbershops, among others – you can add U.S. power utilities. The creeping sense of impending peril that has enveloped the power sector was made explicit earlier this year in a widely distributed, and remarkably candid, report from the Edison Electric Institute entitled ‘Disruptive Changes.’ “Disruptive Challenges.” The report warns that utilities will face decreased revenues and growth with the spread of renewable energy.” Forbes also notes that because “utilities are quasi-monopolies, they will use their financial and political resources to protect their positions.”

Xcel is backing a ballot petition that will be voted on in November in an attempt to stop Boulder’s progress to form a municipal power company. The energy company has also asked the Public Utilities Commission to reduce incentives for installing roof-top solar energy, and is also trying to limit Boulder’s annexation of substations in Boulder County.
 
History shows that Xcel will undoubtedly spend large amounts of money to influence the upcoming vote. In the 2011 election the energy company spent close to $1 million while private proponents spent slightly over $100,000. Based on these facts, citizen groups, concerned with ensuring the current initiative moves forward, are already preparing ways to get the word out about the complex ballot measures.

Sierra Club donation

Sierra Club made a $60,000 donation to support pro-municipalization campaign efforts in Boulder: $25,000 to Empower Our Future and New Era Colorado and $10,000 to Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Indian Peaks Group (IPG). 

IPG spokesman Steve Welter states: "The Sierra Club donation was a significant boost for our campaign. Given what Xcel has shown it is willing to spend, the donation ensured that we not get drowned out by corporate money. It provided the initial funding needed to help mobilize resources and people."

Welter expressed appreciation for the ongoing support from Sierra Club. The Club’s involvement with Boulder and the state began with support for the 2004 statewide Amendment 37 for a renewable energy standard.

Sierra Club also partnered with Boulder groups to develop ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. This effort resulted in several successful campaigns since 2004 including Boulder’s carbon tax initiative in 2006 and ballot initiatives in 2010, 2011 and 2012. “This long-term commitment gives support to a major initiative that will serve as a national model to move toward a future without reliance on fossil fuels,” Welter added.

What can you do?

Sierra Club members can become informed on this issue and should share information widely. A good place to gather more information is Boulder’s Clean Energy Future Website.
 
Also consider volunteering for groups listed above. Go here for the coalition volunteer website. Most important of all is to vote! Your vote will help support the planet and reduce greenhouse emissions.

 

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