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This November, the citizens of Boulder will mark a voting ballot and decide the energy future of the city.
On November 1, 2011, a mail ballot election will be held in the city of Boulder in which citizens will vote whether the city should municipalize its light and power utilities. Municipalization would mean that the city would own and manage its light and power utilities. As of now, Boulder’s light and energy utilities are owned and run by a private company, Xcel Energy.
Ballot issue 2B concerns whether or not to increase and extend a utility tax to buy Xcel Energy’s infrastructure. Ballot issue 2C concerns whether Boulder County will pursue municipal light and power utility.
When the 20-year contract with Xcel Energy expired on Dec. 31, 2010., city council voted not to renew Xcel’s contract and a proposal was made to pursue municipal utility.
“Last year, the city did not pursue the extension of our franchise, but what they did pursue was a tax measure to recover the lost revenues of our franchise fee and that’s the tax they are looking to increase this year,” said Robert Osborn, director of community relations for Xcel Energy.
Osborn said that the risks are high, in terms of cost and reliability, for the city of Boulder in trying to obtain municipality.
He also said that from what he understands, the driving point behind such a proposal is to increase a focus on the city’s sustainability, but that may not go as planned.
“The interesting thing about this whole discussion is that, by law, Xcel Energy is a shareholder-regulating utility,” Osborn said. “We have to meet a 30 percent renewable energy standard. Municipal utilities, by law, only will have to meet a 10 percent renewable energy standard.”
Osborn said that the company’s consultant, Utilipoint, has analyzed the city’s feasibility costs and has found gaps.
“In separation costs, they see a deviance of $100 million and in continued interests, they see a deviance of anywhere up to $300 million,” Osborn said. “To get those numbers resolved, the city will have to pursue a legal condemnation of Xcel Energy’s business in Boulder.”
The legal process could take five to seven years to complete, Osborn said.
The group advocating for municipality is Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future (CBCEF), who created the campaign “Vote Yes for 2B & 2C” as well as the website for the campaign, RenewablesYES.org.
Behind the initiative is a group of about 30 local members with renewable energy and finance background, the Citizen Technical Team. CBCEF said if citizens vote yes on ballots 2B and 2C, Boulder could create its own sustainable energy distribution system while keeping costs at parity with those of Xcel.
“The team determined that Boulder could reduce its CO2 emissions between 50 to 80 percent with $300 million start-up costs (each year Xcel generates $100 million in revenue from Boulder) with $20 million administrative and legal costs using a 7 percent bond,” as stated on RenewablesYES.org.
Boulder Smart Energy Coalition is a group of citizens opposing ballot items 2B and 2C and in favor of seeking clean energy resources.
The group’s website, bouldersmartenergy.com, states, “There is not one dollar in the City’s Feasibility Study for additional renewable energy. Municipalization simply means we would purchase Xcel’s poles and wires, but that means no generation capacity whatsoever, renewable or otherwise.”
The website provides information for citizens which detail the risks and costs of pursuing municipalization.
David Miller, a member of Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, said that the risks involved in setting up a municipal energy system are too great when there are alternative options.
“We’re a group of residents who are opposing ballot items 2B and 2C,” Miller said. “Our organization doesn’t think that’s a good way to go about meeting our energy goals and we don’t think we will get any more renewable energy out of this. But we think we’ll end up taking a big financial risk, and so we don’t think it’s worth it.”
Miller said the city should aim to meet community energy goals by putting up more solar panels on city buildings and creating solar gardens, rather than pursuing municipalization and encountering greater risks.
Yazan Fattaleh, a 20-year-old junior economics major, and a member of the Boulder Smart Energy Coalition, said that he shares the same goals of CBCEF in creating cleaner energy, but municipalization as a process seems inefficient.
“I would say the two most important things to note are that we share the city’s goals of pursuing higher renewables, but are concerned about acquiring Xcel’s infrastructure and setting up our own municipal distribution system,” Fattaleh said. “We don’t think that this lengthy convoluted process is the best way to reach these goals.”
Fattaleh said that it is safe to say that in this period of transition in the city of Boulder, the future is uncertain and citizens have mixed views on municipalization.
“I think, though, most people fall somewhere in the middle,” Fattaleh said. “People are falling everywhere on the issue.”
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Nora Keating at Nora.firstname.lastname@example.org.