Brad D. Segal: Why take an 'off-ramp' to nowhere?

In recent months our community has focused on whether or not Boulder should keep its municipal electric option. Voters will decide the issue this November.

Some are now calling for voters to take an “off-ramp,” abandon our local-power option and “make a deal” with Xcel. This might sound attractive to a community tired of a lengthy process. Something being overlooked, however, is the significant leverage which will be irreversibly lost if we terminate the effort at this time. Preserving the option for Boulder to leave Xcel keeps the pressure on — and this pressure is already leveraging significant carbon reductions, having contributed to Xcel’s considerable shift to renewables since 2010, when the muni effort began. The fact is, Boulder is already making substantial environmental progress just by maintaining the threat to leave Xcel. Why quit now?

Let’s look at our leverage: Some claim we are wasting money and that little has been accomplished. The huge point this neglects is that every time we have won a “Yes” vote on the local-power option (three times so far), Xcel magically becomes more environmental and promises a larger portion of renewables in their energy portfolio. In fact, Xcel has gone from proposing 15-20 percent renewables in 2010, to a recent proposal for 55 percent (which, coincidentally, is happening just before another election). This is what leverage is all about — it gets things done.

Yes, we have had some nominal costs (amounting to several dollars per month per residential user over the period), but in relation to significant results, the funds have been well spent. Remember also that these improvements apply to all of Xcel’s Colorado customers, a considerable overall reduction in greenhouse emissions. Does anyone really believe that Xcel will continue to propose offers of this magnitude if we vote “No” on ballot measure 2L this November? Will they even honor their latest 55 percent “claim” without sustained pressure? I wouldn’t bet on it.

A “Yes” vote on 2L buys more than leverage; it preserves the possibility of local power. A muni may also turn out being the best option for achieving anything close to 100 percent renewables. Xcel is fundamentally constrained in its ability to make dramatic/timely shifts to renewables. Not only is it saddled with too much coal generation, its profit model views clean/distributed-generation (e.g.: household solar), as competition — only to be supported under pressure.

Current status of a local-power utility for Boulder: the Public Utility Commission has now approved its formation. The next steps would be a final-costs determination, followed by a go/no-go vote: both of which are provided for, respectively, in ballot measures 2L and 2O.

How it works: 2L extends the Utility Occupation Tax, which has funded the effort to date. (Average cost for residential customers: about $2 per month). This provides for a final-costs determination. 2O assures a go/no-go public vote after final costs are determined.

Think of a “Yes”/2L, “Yes”/2O vote as a nominal, prudent and hedged investment in our future: combining an attractive “upside” (2L: significant pressure on Xcel, and maybe more), with a “hedge” (2O: guaranteed opportunity for future vote on a final plan).

Consequences of a “Yes” vote by Boulder on 2L and 2O:

1) Keeps pressure on Xcel to actually honor 55 percent “proposal” and maybe go further.

2) Provides for assessment of final muni costs, allowing for a truly informed decision on the local-power option.

3) Prudently assures future go/no-go vote — after final costs are determined.

4) Assures Boulder a position of considerable strength in any further negotiations with Xcel, regardless of local-power status.

Consequences of a “No” vote on 2L:

1) Boulder enters “partnership” with Xcel from a position of considerable weakness, receiving a few meager environmental concessions as a reward for giving up its considerable leverage.

2) Little incentive for Xcel to honor 55 percent “proposal” — much less aspire to higher goals.

3) Local-power option irreversibly gone (for all practical purposes). No chance to find out if we might have gotten a better deal for Boulder and the environment by finishing what we started.

Please join me in voting “Yes” on 2L/2O. There are plenty of future opportunities to exit, if needed. Now is not the time to abandon an opportunity that is working — for an “off-ramp” that goes nowhere.

This Opinion appeared in the Daily Camera.