Lili Francklyn: Time to cut power cord from Xcel


A vague agreement is being thrust before voters right before an election without any time for even cursory due diligence. Like similar “proposals” in the past, this agreement benefits Xcel far more than it does Boulder.

Already, Boulder citizens have voted five times to divorce ourselves from a monopoly utility and create a local power authority that will operate in the best interests of our city instead of corporate shareholders.

At a time when we are all exhausted, dispirited, and distracted by a massive pandemic, a lawless and irrational president, and terrifying economic trends, the new proposals seem like vultures swooping in – trying to snatch away the one hopeful initiative that we have going here in Boulder.

Signing these seriously flawed and toothless agreements will condemn us to squabbling with Xcel for decades to come over every single clean energy initiative the city wants to undertake.

You may say: “But Xcel is investing in so much renewable energy!” Well, yes, they are investing now, but they started investing only because they were forced to do so by public pressure over a decade ago.

In 2004, Colorado passed the first voter- initiated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in the country. This was a bipartisan effort back then. Xcel vehemently opposed the RPS, calling it a “billion dollar mistake.”

Cut to 2020. Renewable energy prices have plummeted. Utilities can produce electricity with renewables more cheaply than they can with most of their coal plants and some of their gas plants. That – and not environmental ethics – is what drives Xcel’s decisions.

Consider this: If we enter into a new franchise agreement with Xcel, the city of Boulder will not be able to deploy a single solar panel — even if it’s cost effective and cuts carbon emissions and is good for our community — if Xcel doesn’t want it. If something doesn’t fit into Xcel’s business plans, which might, say, require a slow retirement of various fossil fuel plans in order to amortize those investments, well, Xcel won’t want to lose money by closing them early, will it?

As long as Boulder is forced to operate within the confines of Xcel’s business goals, every energy decision will be made to benefit Xcel investors, not our community or the planet. That is not a moral judgement. That’s just how business works in our country.

Some people say things like: “Why don’t we just skip all this local power stuff and just put solar on every rooftop?” The problem is that our hands are tied. We can’t do that as long as we’re yoked to Xcel.

That will still be true in a franchise agreement. I don’t expect everyone to dig into the minutiae of state energy policy. But trust me, Xcel will never allow us to put solar on every rooftop, not even on many rooftops. The company controls the rollout of renewable energy statewide to ensure that it doesn’t wreak havoc with its business model. The company slows it down to fit its financial agenda.

Some people have reservations about Boulder running its own utility. Right now, we don’t have to make that decision. At some point, we’ll have the financial data to make an informed decision.

We’ve done just fine without a franchise for 10 years. Right now, all we have to do is say “no” to a franchise that would block us from better offers and keep us out of the free energy market for 20 years.

With all we’ve been through, it’s exhausting to have to go through yet another vote on this subject. But you know why we’re voting on it again? Xcel doesn’t want to let go of us. We’re its cash cow. The company will fight till the very, very end to avoid losing us and this current franchise offer is only the latest tactic.

We must not let this monopoly crush our dreams of clean, renewable energy, energy resiliency, and climate justice. We’ve been fighting for 10 years, and we’re now in the home stretch.

Say “no” to a new franchise agreement. Let’s finish the job and start building our own energy future.

Lili Francklyn is a marketing manager at FTC Solar.

Published 9.25.2020 in the Boulder Daily Camera

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