Micah Parkin Micah Parkin, October 31, 2017

By 350 Boulder friends Marti and Bob Hopper… 

Dear Friends,

We ask that you vote YES on Boulder’s municipalization (“muni”) ballot issues 2L, 2O, and 2P.

We’re passionate about continuing the muni process.  Here’s why.

  1. Climate change is real and threatens life on the planet now as we all witnessed during this summer’s devastating fires and hurricanes in the U.S. alone.  Immediate action is imperative.
  2. Local control is the only way to guarantee that Boulder will have the ability to pursue truly aggressive renewable energy goals.  While Xcel says it will work toward renewables, it has no obligation to do so, especially if it succeeds in killing the muni project. If this happens, Boulder will lose all its bargaining power.
  3. Xcel says it plans to achieve 55% renewables by 2026, but they will not commit to this in writing. As a local monopoly, they have no business-based incentive to commit.  Boulder, on the other hand, has both the incentive and the plans to achieve 100% renewables only four years later, by 2030.  Note that Xcel is committed to the Comanche 3 coal plant in Pueblo until 2070.
  4. Voting YES on 2L, 2O, and 2P does not mean that we’ll municipalize.  Rather, it gives us, as Boulder citizens, the option to continue the process and make informed decisions in the next few years that are in our best interests.
  5. Voting NO on these ballot measures will kill the process. This is our last opportunity. The possibility of having our own electric utility will not happen again in the foreseeable future, and certainly not in our lifetimes. (Okay, yeah, we’re old, but just sayin’…)
  6. Xcel is a local monopoly that uses a financially self-serving 19th century distribution model. They take at least $20 million in profit each year from Boulder citizens alone. Their obligation is to their shareholders, not us, and it’s this incentive that drives their efforts against Boulder’s muni project. (Ask yourself why they’re fighting so hard against the muni.)
  7. Infrastructure costs are the same regardless of who holds them (public or private), but private companies have profits to make on top of running the utility.
  8. Municipal utilities are more reliable than privately-owned power companies. For example, the Fort Collins muni is the most reliable utility in Colorado because it has buried so many of its power lines. This not only protects it from outages but also enhances the beauty of the city.
  9. City Council members will not run the day-to-day operations of our electric utility. Experienced power utility professionals will, regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  In fact, the PUC has given Boulder a clear path forward to municipalization.
  10. Many think that Boulder does not have the expertise to run a utility.  Are you happy with your water supply and delivery?  This is run by the City of Boulder’s Water Utilities Division which handles our water treatment and distribution, hydroelectric facility, wastewater collection and treatment, storm water collection, water quality, infrastructure planning, construction, and maintenance. As far as a power utility, Boulder has already hired highly experienced professionals in the industry to help us.  Even if it takes a rocket scientist to figure it out, Boulder is full of them!
  11. Thinking of putting solar panels on your roof?  Xcel limits the capacity you can install along with your storage ability as this is not profitable for them.  Before our neighbor purchased solar panels last year, he had to jack up his electricity bill for months in order to get Xcel’s approval for the capacity he needed for his home and new electric car.
  12. We like ideas such as putting solar panels on all our school rooftops (or similar creative options) to power our neighborhoods locally.  However, such mini-grids are not allowed by Xcel since the company would lose control of power distribution, and therefore, its profits.  Solar-based mini-grids would have prevented the continuing disaster in Puerto Rico.
  13. I (Marti) recently approached the City of Boulder about mitigating a very tall and bright street light (corner of Ithaca and Holyoke) that shines into surrounding homes and porches, including ours.  City officials said they couldn’t help me. They told me to call Xcel since Xcel owns our street lights.  Really?  I was shocked.  (Okay, not literally.)  Turns out Xcel is not obligated to follow Boulder’s outdoor lighting ordinances.  Xcel refused to change the light.  However, we neighbors could pay out-of-pocket for some minimal mitigation to the tune of a few thousand dollars.
  14. Like the idea of getting out from under the thumb of Comcast and other private internet and cable providers? Longmont residents pay as little as $50/month for complete broadband services. As Joel Dyer of the Boulder Weekly wrote in his October 12th article on the muni, “Boulder can never have cheap, publicly-owned, high-speed broadband like Longmont if we don’t municipalize and take ownership of our electric power grid infrastructure.”
  15. Will the ballot measures cost us money?  Yes.  If 2L passes, it will increase our electricity bill by about $2/month per resident for the first two years and then will return to the current rate for the last three years. We believe that $96 total over five years that Bob and I will pay is an extremely small price considering the extraordinary benefits to be gained.
  16. Some think that Boulder is too small to have its own power utility. There are currently 29 municipal power utilities in Colorado, including Lyons, Longmont, Frederick, Estes Park, Aspen, and Fort Collins.  We believe the people of Boulder are more than capable of doing the same.  See http://www.coloradopublicpower.org/about for a complete list of Colorado cities with their own power utilities.
  17. People across the country and beyond are watching Boulder. Consider the fight for Open Space led by Ruth Wright, Al Bartlett, and Oakleigh Thorne 50 years ago.  They fought hard against a developer who was planning on building a Broadmoor-style hotel and luxury homes on Enchanted Mesa.  Will we continue to be a progressive model for the country or give in to corporate interests out of our own fears? The impact of our actions will set an example far beyond our city limits.

If you’d like more information on costs and answers to other questions you may have, check out the “Public Power Myths” below from the Boulder-based group, Empower Our Future.  You’ll find more information about the ballot measures on their website here: http://empowerourfuture.org/.

Thank you for reading this, and please vote YES on 2L, 2O, and 2P.

Warmly (yeah, it’s a pun but we also mean it),

Marti and Bob

*****************

Public Power Myths

 

Myth 1: “We can meet our climate goals by staying with Xcel.”

Definitely not. Xcel’s need for profits is incompatible with solar it doesn’t own; the company loses money when people invest in rooftop solar, and Xcel works to limit local power production. Colorado’s inflexible legal and regulatory environment is based on burning fossil fuels in central power plants. This business model won’t work well for a distributed and democratized renewable future.

Myth 2: “Xcel has a new plan for 55% renewables by 2026. Isn’t that good enough?”

Not at all. The Xcel plan is a proposal, not a commitment, which will only be pursued if it benefits Xcel’s bottom line. The Xcel plan won’t meet Boulder’s climate goals.  Xcel would still burn fossil fuels for the other 45% of its power generation, with coal burning at Comanche 3 scheduled until 2070. Finally, Xcel intends to own its new renewable resources, keeping the old central power plant business model and premium prices. A local utility would build more distributed, resilient solar, returning economic benefits to the community.

Myth 3: “Creating an electric utility will be more expensive than we planned.”

Nope. Staying with Xcel is actually more expensive than creating a municipal electric utility, considering interest on Xcel’s current debts and planned investments. Opponents of public power don’t want you to know this side of the story. Boulder’s 4% portion of Xcel’s debt will almost certainly  exceed the debt required to create a local municipal electric utility. A “Yes” vote on 2L will allow us to get an accurate accounting and determine if public power is right for Boulder. If we quit now, we will never know the truth.

Myth 4: “We can build as much solar in Boulder as we want! We don’t need a Muni.”

This is one of the most pernicious myths. Staying with Xcel in Colorado’s current regulatory environment creates major barriers to most promising energy innovations including: batteries, local microgrids, innovative rates, incentives to generate energy, third party ownership, peer to peer energy trading, and more community solar, among others. Over the last decade, Boulder’s many outstanding projects – efficiency, solar, EVs – have only reduced GHG emissions 8%. Staying with Xcel trumps democracy since all energy decisions are made at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in a process that is largely inaccessible to Boulder voters. With local power, decisions reflect community goals.

Myth 5: “The Boulder City Council isn’t capable of running an electric utility.”

The City Council won’t be running the electric utility—industry professionals will. The Boulder Charter calls for the establishment of a governance board with representatives from multiple stakeholder groups including industrial, commercial, and residential customers. Day-to-day operations of the utility will be managed by industry professionals just the way they are in 29 other cities in Colorado and in 2,000 cities across the US. Typically public power entities have better rates and higher reliability than investor-owned utilities like Xcel.

Myth 6: “The Public Utilities Commission handed Boulder another defeat!”

On the contrary. The September 14, 2017 PUC decision, a regulatory milestone, granted “a path forward for a Boulder municipal electric plan” by removing important roadblocks and clarifying remaining steps to separate the Boulder grid system from Xcel’s. The Daily Camera portrayed the PUC decision as negative; BizWest and the PUC’s own press release provide a much more accurate report.

The PUC decision is not expected to increase Boulder’s costs significantly. The decision may result in a change of payment scheduling, such as burying power lines earlier than planned.  Vote YES on 2L to get the real answers!

 

Myth 7: “A Boulder public utility won’t be as reliable as Xcel.”

Really, really false. Municipal utilities have higher reliability ratings than investor-owned utilities across the entire US.  That’s because they reinvest in their communities. The Fort Collins municipal electric utility is the most reliable utility in Colorado because it has buried most of its power lines, protecting high tech industries, commercial businesses, residential customers and the university from costly outages and inconvenience.

Myth 8: “Pursuing local power is taking too long.”

Yes it has been along difficult road. But Boulder is not unique. Consider that the Colorado PUC has had to create a new legal framework for municipalization in a process without precedent. But Boulder has created a model for other cities.  Since 2011, Boulder has achieved several critical milestones: With conditional approval of its separation plan from the PUC, Boulder has finally secured a clear way forward; the PUC has ordered Xcel to “negotiate in good faith with Boulder” and after years of legal challenges, Xcel has now agreed to work collaboratively with Boulder; Boulder has developed detailed separation, engineering and financial plans.

Myth 9: There is less financial risk in staying with Xcel.”

On the contrary. Staying with Xcel will almost certainly  cost Boulder MORE money than moving to public power (look up “Xcel’s SEC filings” and get into the weeds). Plus, Xcel costs are unpredictable.Look at what Xcel has done since 2017 ballots were drafted:
a. Effective October, 2017: Xcel’s charges for residential consumers increased an average of $3 per month to pay for fossil fuel cost increases. The PUC deliberated five minutes on an increase that is MORE than the Utility Occupation Tax.

  1. Filed with PUC October 2017: Rate increases for 2018 to 2021 totaling over 9% — This would mean $90 million more leaving Boulder in next decade. This could reach 14% with extra “riders” added to our bills.
  2. Xcel plans to spend $6.4 billion in Colorado between now and 2021. If we stay with Xcel, we would pay likely be responsible for over $250 million of these huge investments.
    After we pay off our own debt (in 30 years) we will own the assets. If we stay with Xcel we will continue to pay “rent” in perpetuity. Public power is a better deal.

Myth 10: “Voting yes on 2L is throwing good money after bad.”

It’s the opposite! Ballot measure 2L will provide crucial cost information on whether we should move forward with public power. Voting “Yes” on 2L increases the UOT for residential customers’ electricity about $2 per month for the first two years, then returns to the current rate for the last three years. This cost is minute compared to the $20 million in after-tax profits that Xcel takes out of Boulder each year. It’s a small price to pay for a historic decision.

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