Cindy Carlisle and John Gerstle: What we have heard on the campaign trailPublished on: Saturday, October 21, 2017
As we have been out talking with voters we’ve been impressed by the quality of questions they are asking. Boulder is lucky to have such an intelligent and engaged electorate.
We are often asked about Boulder’s effort to explore creating our own electric utility. This issue is of utmost importance; and we both have looked into it deeply.
The questions we get asked most include: “Isn’t it getting too expensive?” “Aren’t there better alternatives such as Xcel’s new plan or community choice aggregation or those ‘RECs’ I’ve heard about?” “Even if we get our own utility, how can we be sure it will be reliable in snowstorms, for example?” and “How can we trust the city to complete this project and run it?” (By the way, the rumor that the city would force people to give up their gas lines and appliances is simply not true.)
Both of us are longtime Boulder citizens who have worked for many years in various capacities to try to make Boulder a better place. As we have followed the city’s exploration of municipalization, we have at times asked ourselves those same questions. And we have dug in to finding answers.
We are alarmed about the impacts of climate change. The 2013 floods in Boulder certainly got everyone’s attention. This year, the string of hurricanes — on steroids thanks to climate change — that have shredded Puerto Rico, Texas, and elsewhere, plus the droughts and wildfires and San Francisco’s record 106 degrees on Sept. 1 make it clear that, as the L.A. Times says, “The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.”
Boulder’s climate goals make sense to us. We want to achieve them without jeopardizing the city’s prosperity or by subjecting citizens to higher taxes or electricity rates. And we want to improve Boulder’s resiliency for dealing with future climate-related difficulties.
This is why we’ve concluded that the best step for Boulder now is to continue to move forward in our exploration of municipalization.
Over half of our carbon emissions comes from our electricity supply. We simply can’t clean that up by continuing with Xcel. They have committed too much of their equity to coal-fired (and to so-called “bridge fuel” natural-gas-fired) plants to back out without a real push by the Legislature. And that is unlikely. (For those who ask about community choice aggregation, that would require an act of the Legislature, too.)
So we have concluded we need to stay the course for the next few years until we either succeed or find out we can’t. We know from past experience in dealing with complex matters how much depends on good analysis and good information. Right now we don’t have enough information. But the PUC has given us a path forward to find out. Considering all the potential benefits, we’d be foolish not to take it.
The millions in profits we send to Xcel each year will do more work in achieving our climate change goals if they stay in the community. And, as Tim Schoechle pointed out in his guest opinion on Oct. 15, there is a 3.5x multiplier effect net benefit when this happens.
We are comfortable that Boulder could run a municipal utility and respond effectively to outages. Public utilities of all sizes — from Los Angeles to Lyons — have been doing this for years. Customers of public power utilities spend less time in the dark compared to customers of investor-owned utilities.
And we are excited about the potential — especially in light of Xcel’s recent 9.6 percent requested rate increase — to keep our rates low by having our own utility powered by the free “fuels” of sun and wind. The municipal utility in Georgetown, Texas, is 100 percent powered by renewables and has shielded its customers from price fluctuations for 25 years to come.
The modest amount requested by ballot question 2L — a couple of dollars a month per household for a couple of years — seems to us well worth it, especially since ballot question 2O ensures that we’ll get to vote again once we have all the information before we spend big bucks. We support voting “Yes” on both measures.
We have researched answers to our voters’ excellent questions — more answers than we have space to print here — and have found the city’s new FAQ page to be an excellent resource. Another good resource is Busting public power myths at empowerourfuture.org.
Boulder’s community power is more important now than ever.
This Opinion appeared in the Daily Camera.