Three Mayors Weigh InPublished on: Saturday, October 17, 2020
We three Boulder mayors have helped lead our community’s efforts to decarbonize, decentralize and democratize our energy future. We believe Ballot Measure 2C’s abrupt and premature end to the municipalization effort is a serious mistake.
Boulder’s energy journey spans five ballot issues where our citizens repeatedly confirmed their desire to establish a municipal electric utility—if the price and rates were cost-effective. In 2017, City Council committed to determining the total costs of municipalization and only then holding a fully-informed final vote. This promise to voters was supported by most current Council members, including Yates, Brockett, and Wallach. Nonetheless, though we are now within sight of knowing municipalization’s cost, a Council majority decided to put a 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel on this November’s ballot instead.
This is not the choice that was promised to Boulder voters.
You, our citizens, have supported Boulder’s substantial investment in our collective future: $25 million over ten years. We are nearing the homestretch at a time when renewable energy and bonding have never been cheaper, and the creation of a city-owned utility never more affordable. We must not irresponsibly walk away from this extraordinary opportunity.
Moreover, the City recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) to determine the cost and willingness of alternative providers to provide renewable energy and financing for a municipal energy utility, as has been negotiated in other communities. Remarkably, the Council placed this franchise on the ballot before the RFP results came in, and details still haven’t been released publicly. Voters must have full access to these options and all financial details before deciding whether to stop exploring municipalization.
In coming to our conclusion, we asked the following critical questions about 2C’s Xcel franchise agreement:
Does it meet our goals? Boulder’s desires to democratize our energy system can’t be met through Xcel’s shareholder-owned monopoly, nor can our ambitions to increase reliability or reduce rates. Boulder’s attainable goal of 100% renewables by 2030 exceeds Xcel’s pledge to reduce emissions 80% by 2030. Under this proposed franchise, partnership efforts with Xcel to reach more ambitious goals will require approval by the Public Utility Commission and/or state legislature. Further, it contains neither guarantees that Xcel will help meet our goals, nor financial penalties for non-performance, or timelines.
What are we giving up? The franchise’s only enforcement mechanism is periodic “opt out” options. But Boulder’s only real leverage over Xcel has been our threat to municipalize. If we end our muni effort now, it’s unlikely we’ll ever take it up again, and the courts won’t look favorably on a request to resume muni cases after our pending lawsuits are withdrawn. As long as we aren’t pursuing a muni, Xcel doesn’t care if we opt out or not. This franchise is clearly not a “great green deal” from Xcel, but scuttles years of hard work toward a much greener future.
What will it cost? Amazingly, no recent cost comparison has been done of achieving our decarbonization goals under an Xcel franchise versus municipalization. Under franchise, not only will Boulder pay extra for each Xcel “partnership project,” but Boulderites will continue sending $25 million in profits to Xcel shareholders annually, plus substantial, bloated “overhead” costs. In contrast, while some legal and monetary risks remain, we now know that a municipal utility is affordable, and after an initial payback period will be profitable – with potentially huge benefits as these monies are reinvested in our community.
Why now? Neither Boulder nor Xcel needs a franchise, and we’ve done fine without one for a decade. However, our pursuit of municipalization poses an existential threat to Xcel’s monopoly business model, so (using ratepayer money!) they’ve made the process as long and expensive for us as they could. As Boulder clears legal hurdles and gets closer to the finish line—and new potential partners emerge who could provide affordable carbon-free energy—Xcel is desperately trying to end Boulder’s municipalization quest.
We find no reason to end our municipalization effort and lock ourselves into a 20-year franchise. Why shouldn’t Boulder have 100% renewables like Aspen, the incredible reliability of Fort Collins, and exceptional fiber internet like Longmont instead?
Municipalizing Boulder’s electric utility is the best and most important investment of our generation, and will shape our future long after this pandemic and recession. Other cities are watching us. At a time when progressive leadership is needed more than ever, let’s not give up now: please vote NO on 2C.