Home editor's blog on sun & fossil fuels Vote to break from utility sets important precedent

Vote to break from utility sets important precedent

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Xcel Energy wasn't going to get away from coal and move as much into renewable energy forms such as solar as Boulder, Colo. voters wanted. Now, Boulder's approved a ballot measure that could lead to the city breaking away officially from Xcel.

editors-blog-entry3I’m a huge supporter of renewable energy, and, especially of bottom-up, local, democratic forms of renewable energy production, distribution, and consumption.

That’s why I’m ecstatic that Boulder, Colo. just passed an historic ballot measure that will push the city forward on a path which may well lead it to break away from large utility Xcel Energy and create its own municipalized utility within the next five years or so.

Boulder’s goal: To get as much of as its energy from renewable forms as possible.

Xcel hits 30% renewables – and then what?
Xcel -- which just so happens to be our utility in Aurora, Colo. as well -- is one of the nation’s top utilities in terms of renewable energy, and will in fact meet Colorado’s threshold of producing 30% of its electricity from renewable energy up to eight years earlier than the 2020 deadline.

But then what?

All indications are that Xcel isn’t going to do much to push beyond 30% on the renewable energy front -- unless it gets pushed to do so by more changes in the law.

Boulder wants to go much further than getting 30% of its energy from renewable sources with a long-term goal of at least doubling that percentage.

Xcel poured about $1 million into trying to defeat issue 2C – and a related issue, 2B, claiming, among other things, that municipalization would cost Boulder and Boulder consumers too much. Of course, Xcel didn’t calculate in the health and environmental costs of the vast amounts of coal it still burns – a Boulder Daily Camera article notes that about 60% of Xcel produced electricity in Colorado comes from the burning of coal.

Price vs. cost of coal
Clearly, many Boulder voters see the bigger cost picture and grasp the difference between price and cost. The price of coal-produced electricity might be cheap, artificially cheap, in fact. However, coal’s cost is much, much higher than the price when you add in health and environmental considerations – which, of course, utilities and coal industry don’t do, and which they don’t want the rest of us to do either.

But just because the coal industry and utilities don’t want the public to wake up to the real cost of coal doesn’t mean they can keep us from doing so, as this Boulder vote to municipalize attests.

Hat’s off to the Boulder voters who helped pass 2C by what, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, was the rather thin margin of 933 votes out of about 83,000 votes cast.

Hopefully, this will put more and more pressure on big utilities such as Xcel to increase their renewable energy proportions, and, better yet, create the impetus for more localization and democratization of renewable energy production.

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