By Chris Hoffman
In this period of climate collapse that we see all around us, making climate progress 20 years sooner makes a huge difference.
When we in Boulder have an opportunity to save $40 million a year on our energy costs, it makes a huge difference. In this era of Citizens United and corporate power controlling our politics, the difference between a regulated monopoly and an unconstrained monopoly is a huge difference.
The timing difference:
Boulder’s energy target is 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Xcel’s energy target is 100% carbon free by 2050. Xcel’s is 20 years later — a huge difference.
While Xcel’s stated carbon reduction goals are welcome, at this point they are just intentions. A look at the investor presentation that Xcel gave in September 2019 at the Barclays Capital conference reveals that the estimated energy mix for Xcel/Public Service Company of Colorado in 2027 remains 46% fossil-fuel powered: 24% coal and 22% natural gas generation. In 2018, Xcel’s Colorado electricity was still 73% fossil fuel powered. Meanwhile, Xcel continues to pour tens of millions of dollars into their old coal and natural gas plants under the assumption that we, the ratepayers, will pay them back and even pay them a return on their equity of 9% to 10%.
The savings difference:
The response from major energy suppliers to Boulder’s 2018 request for indicative pricing shows that even at 89% renewables we could save about $40 million per year over Xcel’s costs. And this is with Xcel providing only 53% renewables. This is another huge difference.
The difference for citizens’ rights:
Boulder has a constitutional right to form a municipal utility (Article XX). Boulder has been trying to exercise this right since 2011. From the very earliest election, when Xcel outspent citizen clean energy advocates by more than 10-to-one, until right now, Xcel has thrown up roadblock after roadblock in Boulder’s path. Xcel has opposed us at elections, they have opposed us at the Public Utilities Commission, they have taken us to court, and they have dragged their feet in response to numerous good-faith efforts by the city. Nevertheless, Boulder has persisted.
As just one example, in 2013 Xcel and their faux-grassroots group put a poison pill measure on the ballot (Ballot Question 310) to shut down our community power effort. Boulder voters issued a resounding rejection of 310 with over 68% of the vote, even though the “No on 310” groups were outspent by a factor of three-to-one. In the same election, with about 67% of the vote, Boulder citizens resoundingly supported moving ahead with the community power process. (Find more details on this long history at empowerourfuture.org/boulder-municipalization-a-history.)
Xcel seems bent in exhausting our patience as well as our purse so that we will simply give up. This should not be surprising. Xcel has done this before. When Fort Collins tried to municipalize, Xcel (Public Service Company back then) dragged them to the state Supreme Court — not once but twice. When Longmont tried to municipalize, Xcel (Northern Colorado Power Company back then) obtained a court injunction to keep Longmont from issuing bonds. As part of the fight against NCP, many citizens stopped using electricity altogether and used only kerosene lights until the connection to their municipal utility became available. Citizens’ struggles for their rights against Xcel have never been easy.
It has not been easy because Xcel wields enormous financial and political power. Consider, for example, the recent granting by Judge Thomas Mulvahill of Xcel’s motion to dismiss the city’s condemnation filing. What does it say about Xcel’s power when the judge literally rubber-stamped Xcel’s motion to dismiss, giving no rationale beyond Xcel’s own words, and simply writing “Granted”?
The key force in keeping a monopoly regulated is the threat of municipalization. If that threat is nullified in practice, though it might remain in the Constitution, then all we are left with is raw, unconstrained monopoly. That is a big difference.
Now that Boulder has overcome so many hurdles and made so much progress, now that the economic benefits of community power are increasingly large and increasingly clear, now that the climate argument is increasingly compelling, it is time to move ahead and really make a difference. We deserve to be able to complete the process so that we can make an informed go/no-go decision on community power.
Chris Hoffman lives in Boulder.