Sunday, December 11, 2011

Revolution in Boulder

It is a month now since voters in Boulder approved a city charter amendment to create a green utility. The City hired Local Power Inc., a year ago to advise them on a strategic framework for evaluating its energy options due to the expiration of its franchise with energy giant Xcel, based in Minneapolis. We suggested that they focus their efforts on "energy localization" rather than "takeover," and the City Council embraced this vision - a new business model focused on decarbonization, local jobs, customer-ownership, and demand reduction: Local Power not in our usual formula of a Community Choice Aggregation (Colorado has no CCA law), but a new kind of municipal utility.  If you are interested, LPI's "Localization Portfolio Standard," which outlines the economic and technical feasibility for energy localization in Boulder, is posted on the City's web site.  Our company press release is here. Boulder produced a great video here. Van Jones gave a speech on the campaign here.

Last week, city staff affirmed the City's intention to go ahead with the localization paths we identified in the Localization Portfolio Standard, and we look forward to working with the City in its efforts to implement. Sarah Laskow of Good magazine said "this week's vote was the energy equivalent of closing an account at a national bank in order to buy into a local credit union. Instead of just one person leaving the utility, though, this is an entire community." An excellent metaphor, comparing Boulder's green power revolt to the Occupy Movements community bank revolt, except Boulder's plans would not merely take over and imitate the old institution, but create an entirely new one, reverse-engineered: a municipal utility designed anew, with a new business model focused not on selling power and gas to service its debt (the traditional model for utilities public and private), but instead focused building on selling the utility's new plant to its customers - in Community Solar arrays and other neighborhood-scale renewables, while standardizing technologies to reduce everybody's energy consumption, and making every building in the City a "smart building."

Boulder's vote in November is historically significant not only as one of the only major votes for municipalization in America since WWII, but more so for the fact of its positive motivation. Like CCA communities in San Francisco, Marin, Cape Cod and elsewhere, the Boulder City Council put the 2B and 2C items on the ballot for the same old reasons that the traditional municipalization battle was fought: not because of hatred for Xcel, nor for high rates. It was a new campaign, motivated by the community's near-unanimous support for green power and economic localization - a desire to innovate in a way that utility monopolies have proven themselves unable, or unwilling, to do. Just as with PG&E's inability to stop CCA in California with Proposition 16 last year despite over $60 Million in campaign expenditures, Xcel was unable to stop Boulder, I believe, because the old slogans and strategies, designed for the old municipalization battle, were ineffective against the positive platform erected by the mayor and city council.

Economic localization initiatives like Boulder may prove the most compelling path for energy. The climate crisis goes on unabated, nuclear proliferation mounts, the mountaintop removal and fracking grow day by day in a collapsed political world that neither Obama, nor governors, can impact with policy or plan. In comparison, using local control authorities like a franchise, a local election, or Community Choice offers a relatively direct, simple, and trustworthy means of proving that democracy is not inconsistent with clear thinking and bold action.

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