Hoffman: Brief history of Boulder's votes on public power


Some background:

Boulder Has Voted on Over and Over Again in Favor of Municipalization / Public Power

  • 2010:  In anticipation of work on municipalization Boulder citizens passed ballot measure 2B, a legal device to replace the Franchise Fee with a 5-year Utility Occupation Tax (UOT), in order to maintain the city budget.  The Franchise Fee had been collected by Xcel from its customers as part of the bill, with all the money turned over to the City.  The UOT was designed to replace that income, once Xcel was no longer in franchise, with no change in costs to customers.
  • 2011:  Boulder voters approved ballot measures 2B/2C which authorized City Council to (i) provide $1.9 million annually to fund exploration of a municipal electric utility, and (ii) authorize City Council to approve municipal purchase of the local electric utility ─ if it could meet strict city Charter electric utility municipalization criteria (i.e. reliability and rates equal or better than Xcel; 1.25 Debt Service Coverage Ratio; carbon reduction and a path to increased renewable energy). While this original vote authorizing the exploration of municipalization was close, the closeness of the vote probably had something to do with the fact that Xcel outspent the citizens on this vote by a factor of at least 10-to-1.   NOTE:  Prior to this vote, Xcel made a last-minute offer to sell Boulder energy from a yet-to-be-built wind farm. Under the terms of this deal, as Mayor Appelbaum put it, Boulder would assume 100 percent of the risk but zero percent of the control.  Boulder City Council wisely declined. Had they accepted, Boulder’s electricity prices would have soared.  Xcel had the wind farm built anyway; and got the energy on better terms than they had offered to Boulder.
  • 2013: Xcel’s faux “citizens group” put forward a ballot measure that would have crippled the municipalization process. Citizens defeated that measure by a 2-to-1 margin, even though again Xcel outspent citizens by 10-to-1.
  • 2014:  Boulder citizens voted to authorize the City Council to hold executive sessions to help level the playing field with Xcel. (Xcel’s decision-making process has never been public.) Boulder citizens gave that measure a 56 percent win, despite no official campaign at all in favor of it.
  • 2015: Citizens voted to extend the Utility Occupation Tax (UOT) in a 76 percent win and a climate action plan tax in a 77 percent win.
  • 2017: March – City Council voted 6 to 3 against accepting Xcel’s “best and final settlement” offer.  November – Citizens voted in favor of ballot measure 2L and 2O – both in support of municipalization:  2L Renewed the Utility Occupation Tax (UOT) and increased the tax to fund critical legal and engineering work to understand the final costs of creating a publicly owned electric utility.   2O (Public Vote to Finance Local Power) required a vote of the community before issuing debt to establish a muni (This passed by over 4 to 1).
  • 2020:  After all this, with barely two weeks allowed for public analysis of almost a hundred pages of legal and technical language, and in the midst of a pandemic and a presidential election season testing the viability of American democracy, the City Council has moved closer to placing on the ballot a measure that would effectively kill Boulder’s exploration of public power, a.k.a. the muni.

Chris Hoffman
Boulder, CO