Rebecca Dickson: Xcel not a good partner for BoulderPublished on: Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Recently several people have called on the city of Boulder to negotiate with Xcel Energy and form a partnership to provide electricity to Boulder residents. Many of us active on environmental issues oppose partnering with Xcel for various good reasons that have been expressed here.
My own reason comes down to this: Xcel is a reckless company that is not fully committed to addressing climate change. Xcel itself admits it has made environmental mistakes. At an energy forum in June, Alice Jackson, an Xcel vice president, acknowledged that Xcel made some bad decisions in the past but that they were mending their ways and should not be judged by those decisions today.
But some of those bad corporate decisions are not ancient history, and as a regulated monopoly, Xcel passes on the costs of those bad decisions to you and me.
While watching the film “Time to Choose” at the Dairy Center in June, I was surprised to see Xcel’s name listed as a contributor to James Inhofe, the climate-change denying U.S. senator from Oklahoma who has done so much to prevent the mighty U.S. from acting on climate change. Some quick web research revealed Xcel’s political donations: according to OpenSecrets.org, Xcel has given thousands of dollars to Inhofe, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, Lisa Murkowski, Marco Rubio, and other U.S. senators who have labored to prevent the richest and most influential country on Earth from acting on climate change.
Based on their electric production, Xcel rakes in $15-20 million in after-tax net income per year from Boulderites, so count on it: some of my money and yours is supporting U.S. politicians who willfully reject the straightforward science in regard to climate, that shoving more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere warms our world.
You might think that Xcel’s financial support of climate-change deniers means that they are a climate-change denying corporation. They are not. Check out their environment pages at their website: Xcel acknowledges that carbon emissions are a problem and commits to reducing its carbon footprint. Bravo, Xcel. But this hypocritical double-dealing is more proof that this corporation cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of people and the environment.
At over 50 percent coal-dependent, Xcel still relies heavily on fossil fuels to produce its electricity. It is finally moving toward more renewables, but given that the majority of its electricity is still produced by burning coal and natural gas, many decades will pass before Xcel can get to the emissions-free electricity production that our climate needs to stabilize.
When Xcel chose to build Comanche 3 in Pueblo in 2003, it wedded itself to burning coal until 2069. Everybody reading this article will be in their 60s or older or long dead by then; a kindergartener will be 58. By 2003, there was already considerable concern about greenhouse gas emissions and the costs of coal, and there was already serious talk of carbon taxes (which Xcel opposes). There were already signs that the coal industry was in trouble — Clean Energy Action’s Leslie Glustrom has written of this. Yet Xcel continued down its coal-driven path, and now its customers will pay for its bad decisions for decades to come.
Coal is simply bad business: it’s a dirty and dangerous product to extract from the ground, it’s a heavy burden to transport, and it’s an environmental and human health disaster as we burn it, releasing carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. We’ve known the drawbacks of coal for decades. Yet for decades Xcel did little to move off of coal.
Do I want Xcel to disappear? No — it employs a lot of people and knows a lot about energy production. But let it serve as a contractor to Boulder’s municipal electric supply, not as a partner insisting on outdated business plans that increase its profits but undermine environmental and human health. We cannot continue enriching irresponsible corporations that have refused to think forward in regard to energy production while our summers and winters heat up, year after year.
Xcel itself would hesitate — I hope — to form a partnership with a business that has its own reckless and hypocritical history. We Boulderites should not just hesitate, we should move on from Xcel and create our own electric utility. We cannot afford more poor decision-making by fossil-fuel wedded corporations like Xcel.
Rebecca Dickson is chair of the Sierra Club-Indian Peaks Group.
This opinion original published in the Boulder Daily Camera