The debate on the energy future of the City of Boulder is creating buzz in the CU community.
The event “A Local Power Debate: Should Boulder Form Its Own Electric Utility?” took place in the Eaton Humanities building Wednesday from 4-5:30 p.m. in hopes of answering the questions surrounding the ballot items 2B and 2C concerning energy municipality for the City of Boulder.
The debate, which was sponsored by the INVS Community Leadership Program and moderated by Susan Beckett of the CU Environmental Center, featured representatives for and against municipalization, each of the two sides having three representatives.
Karey Christ-Janer, representing Boulder Smart Energy, along with the other two anti-municipalization speakers, began the debate by advocating that the city take a year to explore other options. Christ-Janer cited the risks of stranded costs and possible accumulation of debt in pursuing a city-owned and operated energy utility. She advocated for localized energy sources such as solar and wind power.
“I want local, I want local now,” Christ-Janer said. “I don’t want to have to wait five years.” She said that a master plan must first be developed which would include a steady revenue stream.
Hunter Coohill, a 20-year-old junior political science major, said that there is too much uncertainty involved in seeking municipal utilities, and this may come at a cost for students at CU as tuition rates may be affected.
Yazan Fattaleh, a 20-year-old junior economics major representing anti-municipalization, said that the city would not be gaining any more renewable energy than what it currently has now with Xcel, without encountering higher costs.
“The city’s cost model, the cost model we’re going to be voting on, uses the same mix of renewable versus coal that Xcel is using right now,” Fattaleh said. “That means what were basing the possible prices off of, is not any more renewable energy.”
Fattaleh said that the costs and uncertainty are too great a risk, citing that city-run energy utilities have often failed in the past.
“My main view is that we don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s going to be a very expensive path to an outcome of which we don’t know,” Fattaleh said. “In the historical precedent of municipalities who tried to do this is not good, and that’s why I’m so worried.”
Speaking on behalf of municipalization were three representatives from Renewable Yes, a local group in support of ballot items 2B and 2C, which will decide whether or not Boulder municipalizes.
Adam Estroff said that the city has more than the capability to regulate its own municipal utility and 2B and 2C should be voted in favor of ending corporate ownership of Boulder energy utilities.
“Passing 2B and 2C send us down a path of creating a main utility structure, one that’s free from the corporate model of Xcel, free from coal, and really lets us pursue new technologies in a really innovative way,” Estroff said.
Estroff said the projected costs for Boulder’s municipalization program would be $600 million in the worst-case scenario, and if they exceed the costs of Xcel the program would discontinue.
“I think this is really about new ways of thinking, and to me, that’s really what municipalization is all about,” Estroff said. “I really want to stress that waiting is just kicking the can down the road. Because of Colorado’s unique regulatory environment, there’s really not a lot of other options we can do under the PUC. Whether or not we sign a franchise agreement with Xcel, they maintain the monopoly right to distribute electricity, which is why they are not negotiating, because it doesn’t matter to them what happens.”
Estroff continued by discussing alternative means for energy to support municipalization.
“I think this is about moving forward in a real way that provides green energy to businesses, and keeps rates stable; its just new ideas, that’s what it really is,” Estroff said. “We’re talking about using natural gas here, you know, we’re not talking about a dream based on rainbows and sunflowers, but this is a natural gas turbine made by General Electric that going to be able to give us a new kind of energy, but the fact is those turbines work with renewable energy, so instead of curtailing renewables for coal, we’re curtailing fossil fuels for renewable energy.”
Amy Guinan, an endorser for municipalization, joined the debate to point out that Boulder has the ability to become the 30th municipal community in the U.S. The 29 “municipal communities” now in existence would be what the Boulder municipal plan would be based off of.
Zane Selvans, another municipalization endorser, said that since Xcel has pre-existing investments in coal, Boulder has the advantage in municipality to move away from the use of coal towards renewable energy.
“Looking at Xcel’s financial incentives, they have a lot of investments in coal-fired generation,” Selvans said. “Most of those investments are 50 or so years old, and what’s really concerning is that they have recently in 1981 and 2009, renewed their bets on coal.”
Selvans said there is risk involved in continuing a contract with Xcel in that the city could be locked into coal-powered energy and also that rates for city-owned renewable energy could be at parity with Xcel’s.
“I think that Boulder, if we manage to municipalize and show that it is cost competitive, and feasible, that you can do the gas plus renewables,” Selvans said. “I think that there’s a good argument that will provide Xcel and other utilities like them the cover that they need to start making that shift, and not be doubling their bets on the traditional model of coal.”
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Nora Keating at Nora.firstname.lastname@example.org.