Chris Hoffman: Xcel earns while the planet burnsPublished on: Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Bob Martin raises some good questions in his “Musings on a municipal electric utility” (Daily Camera, Aug. 2). Here are some additional thoughts.
The original justification for separating from Xcel was not simply “the embarrassment of having a coal-fired power plant on the outskirts of town,” as Mr. Martin asserts, but more importantly the planet-killing fact that Xcel was over 70 percent fossil-fueled, on top of Xcel’s ongoing refusal to work with Boulder to reduce that percentage. Fifty-three percent of Boulder’s greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity generation, so cleaning that up is the biggest single step we can take to address climate change.
Despite Xcel’s recent investments in wind and solar, Xcel remains over 70 percent fossil-fueled, and plans to run its Commanche 3 coal plant until 2070. So, if you think municipalization is taking a long time, just consider the alternative. And if Boulder does not form a clean-energy municipal electric utility, then we will either need to give up on our climate goals or find some other way to get rid of 53 percent of our emissions.
A municipal utility makes economic sense as well as climate sense. Lest anyone feel sorry for Xcel, please remember that it is not a human being. It is a hundred-year-old, for-profit monopoly that each year takes over $20 million in after-tax profits from Boulder ratepayers. What we are doing with municipalization is making an investment over a few years in order to re-direct that money back into our local economy going forward. This is why Xcel has filed lawsuits and spent over a million dollars in local elections trying to defeat municipalization.
Mr. Martin also asks why Boulder wouldn’t be better off investing our municipalization money in things like rooftop solar and batteries. Unfortunately, not everyone has solar access. Also unfortunately, Xcel caps how much solar you can get, keeps reducing incentives, imposes burdensome technical restrictions, and won’t let you sell any extra to your neighbors. Without revenue from a municipal utility there isn’t a way to make large investments in solar energy. And Xcel’s Windsource and Renewable*Connect programs charge premiums for some of the cheapest electricity in the country. (A muni would provide green energy at no premium.)
Mr. Martin is concerned that Boulder would pay “top dollar” for the distribution system. In the end, the price of the system will probably be determined by arbitration. When Fort Collins acquired its system from Public Service Company (Xcel) the final purchase price was only about 62 percent of what Public Service had claimed the system was worth. We need to own the “poles and wires” to have the legal right to increase our amount of renewable energy, to support innovative energy solutions, and to govern our own electric grid.
Furthermore, Mr. Martin might be reassured to know more about the caliber of people working on Boulder’s municipal utility. Just one example is professional engineer Steve Catanach who for over six years was manager of light and power for the city of Fort Collins. The Fort Collins municipal utility operates and maintains one of the most reliable electric distribution systems in the country (over 99.99 percent system reliability). In the last year of Mr. Catanach’s leadership, the Fort Collins municipal utility achieved a perfect 100 percent in the American Public Power Association’s prestigious RP3 program for demonstrating high proficiency in reliability, safety, work force development and system improvement.
Of course there are further benefits from municipalization. Here are just a few: insulate ourselves from the rising costs of fossil fuels, reduce our dependency on dwindling supplies of economically recoverable coal, take advantage of the rapidly declining cost of renewables, improve reliability and city attractiveness through the undergrounding of lines, stimulate clean energy entrepreneurial activity, allow citizens to have a say in our energy future, improve resilience through microgrids.
For me, the biggest benefit is being able to do our part to reduce the threat of climate change. The City Council has yet to determine the desired increase in the utility occupation tax, but it looks like it will be somewhere between four and seven cents a day added to the average residential bill over five or four years. This seems a small amount to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something real and concrete to benefit this earth and all our relatives who inhabit it.
I thank Mr. Martin for supporting municipalization in the past; and I hope that these thoughts have been persuasive for him and others.
This Letter to the Editor was originally published in the Daily Camera.