Boulder Voters Approve Tax to Continue Work on Municipal Utility
By Lili Francklyn & Leslie Glustrom
By a 3.5% margin that turned around dramatically when final ballots were counted, Boulder voters chose this week to send Boulder’s exploration of public power into the next phase.
“The real winners of this election are the next generation,” said Leslie Glustrom of Empower Our Future, which worked to pass the measure. “I feel as though we have given young people a bit of hope that something can be done about climate change. Their votes carried us over the finish line and I believe that’s because they have a deep understanding of the urgency of climate change and the challenges it will bring.” Glustrom credited New Era Colorado for its work registering and educating young voters in Boulder.
In the fourth tightly contested election over public power in the past six years, voters approved a tax increase averaging $2 per month for residential electric utility ratepayers. The money will fund engineering and legal work to provide answers over the next two to three years about whether Boulder’s effort to launch a municipal electric utility is financially feasible. That includes the development of detailed engineering plans to separate Boulder’s electric grid from Xcel Energy, and a case before condemnation court, probably in early 2018, that will determine the price of that grid. The city’s current economic models show Boulder public power to be on track financially. Once final costs are known, voters will have one more chance to approve the municipal utility when they decide whether to issue bonds to launch it.
The initiative to continue moving forward with public power was endorsed by the Sierra Club, 350.org, Plan Boulder County, and several local environmental organizations and businesses.
Boulder voters approved the creation of a municipal utility in 2011 to meet the city’s carbon reduction goals, which include electricity generation by 100% renewable energy by 2030. Xcel Energy, which recently built a billion dollar coal plant, generates 46% of its electricity from coal, and plans to burn coal until 2069. Advocates of public power for Boulder say that it will lead to more renewable energy, and clean energy innovations that are impossible within the current regulatory framework.
Well-financed opposition from incumbent investor-owned utilities makes the creation of new municipal utilities extremely difficult and thus very rare in the US, but increasing numbers of cities are exploring that possibility to increase their supplies of renewable energy. If it succeeds in creating its own electric utility, Boulder will be the first US city to do so because of concerns about climate change.
Empower Our Future is a coalition of community organizations, local businesses and individuals with a vision of a sustainable world and a shared commitment to bringing clean local power to Boulder. Empower Our Future’s mission is to create a 21st century utility that provides reliable electricity at competitive rates, while mitigating climate change through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Local power would also be a catalyst for energy innovation and local economic development in Boulder. If it succeeds in launching a local electric utility, Boulder will join 29 other Colorado cities with municipal utilities including Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Longmont.
To learn more please visit www.EmpowerOurFuture.org.