On November 5th, Local Power Is On The Line

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In 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, opted to explore alternatives to their monopoly, corporate electric utility that pumps coal-fired energy into town and sucks millions in energy profits out. They won at the ballot box despite being outspent more than 10-to-1.

But tomorrow they have to win again against deep corporate pockets, or lose everything they’ve fought for.

Since November 2011, the diligent citizens of Boulder have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions by half, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords. They’ve studied other city-run utilities (29 others in Colorado alone) to learn how they could take control of their energy future for the better.

Xcel Energy, the incumbent corporate utility, isn’t amused.

xcel service territory.001After spending $1 million in a failed attempt to stifle energy freedom in 2011, Xcel Energy has already poured over $500,000 into Boulder to defeat this local and renewable threat to their monopoly business model.  They’ve sponsored a new ballot initiative (issue 310) that would make running a local, municipal utility nearly impossible. Under a rational-sounding name, the ballot measure would prevent the city from issuing enough debt to buy out the corporate monopoly and run its own electric utility.  Nearly all the money supporting the ballot measure comes straight from Xcel’s ratepayers, spread across eight states.

It’s a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy the election result they want, and all that’s standing in their way is a committed group of local citizens.  But unlike 2011, Boulder isn’t standing alone in the fight to be energy deciders for a cleaner energy future.

This video – headlining their crowdfunding campaign – shows what’s at stake.  It inspired over 5,700 individuals across the world to, as their t-shirt aptly suggests, “pick a side.”  (Disclosure: my donation to this campaign gave me the opportunity to offset the money Xcel took from my electric bill to undermine local power).

The campaign isn’t just about one city’s right to make its own energy choices, but about the right of every community to choose its energy future.  And it is ground zero in that fight, as illustrated by the president of the American Public Power Association in a surprisingly impassioned defense of communities to tap “the American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor to meet local needs”:

[Utilities] such as Xcel Energy generally oppose the formation of new public power utilities because, for them, it means the loss of customers and profits. New public power utilities also provide high-profile examples of what communities can do for themselves, and this may encourage other cities to form public power utilities.

“Other cities” includes Xcel’s hometown of Minneapolis, MN, where a grassroots campaign (several years younger than the one in Boulder) is pushing for the same thing: a candid assessment of whether the incumbent utility is providing the best possible energy future.

That makes tomorrow’s vote a crucial one.  Will it be another example of how a corporate monopoly buries its political and economic opponents?  Or will it be Boulder’s shot heard ’round the world of locals taking charge of their energy future?

We’ll see.

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John Farrell

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

John Farrell has 518 posts and counting. See all posts by John Farrell

3 thoughts on “On November 5th, Local Power Is On The Line

  • Good for Boulder.

  • I hope Boulder wins (I dropped some money into the campaign). But it will not be the last fight Xcel. Xcel has a lot of money in coal. The fastest way to solve this is to do to power what we did to Ma-Bell. Split power generation(Gen) from distribution(Dist) and do not allow cross ownership. If on board or in management (above team leader) of Gen then can not own/consult/work for Dist (same other way). If you break the rule it isn’t jail time it is 5 * large comp package in last 10 years plus 5*all stock holding in gen and distribution. Not sure how long distance transmission is split out. Extreme? yes, but so was breaking Ma-Bell. Remember it was going to be the end of the world.

  • My experience has been with ballot measures to be very careful. The vested interests will couch the measure in such terms that you actually think you are voting for the complete opposite of what you think the measure means. This is where money is needed to explain to the average voter what the measure really means. One of the best ways to do this is to reveal to the public who really is buying the advertising. This can be hard because the vested interests will create some sort of entity that many times starts out as, “Citizens for…”.

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