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Power from the people: Boulder energy municipalization a step in the wrong direction.

By Eli Boonin-Vail in Opinion & Politics

The concept of being a "locavore," that is, one who eats food obtained from nearby surroundings, has become increasingly popular in Boulder in the past four years. Supporters of the local food movement point out the inherent nutritional flaws in food that must be shipped from far away, and relish the simplicity of supplying oneself with locally raised eats.

Boulder as a whole is famous for housing mentalities along these lines. Its city council pushes boundaries with strong headed initiatives that challenge our conception of civic virtue. We were one of the first towns to instigate a recycling program, and our open space program remains one of the finest in the nation. Boulder's legislative aim has always been to redefine the authority of local governance.

Of course, our local government also has the capacity to make us, the people of Boulder, look like we are afraid of the homeless, concerned with trivial affairs, and just plain crazy. It's been the subject of mockery both for locals and outsiders, and a recent ballot initiative to municipalize power will do nothing but strengthen this current of foolishness if it passes the vote on November 1st.

In short, municipalization is the transfer of powers (not literal but societal) vested in corporations to the authority of city governments, or "municipalities." In this case, Boulder, using an increased tax revenue of 1.9 million more dollars per annum, would take over what is usually left to the devices of the Xcel energy company and run the power grid on their own terms, serving their own localized needs.

I am, in no way, a proponent of mega-corporations overruling local power (not literal but societal again, this can all get a little confusing). I don't shop at Walmart and I believe many of the economic failures this nation has recently faced are due to corporate omnipresence being mistaken for corporate omnipotence, hence the phrase "too big to fail." So, when I tell you that I support Xcel, a large corporation, over Boulder, the little engine that could, believe you me that I have put some thought into this.

The thing is, there's been no real beef to be had with the Xcel energy corporation. They're a regional company whose policies have, for the most part, been agreeable with Boulder standards. Admittedly, they did do a number on Colorado solar industries recently when they slashed their solar incentive program by nearly 50 percent, making for some pretty unhappy environmentalists in the area, which we all know are a force to be reckoned with.

Despite all this, Xcel has been an excellent (please forgive me) company for Boulder, Colorado. Their rates are reasonable, and their service is outstanding. Despite the fact that Boulder often has heavy snowfalls as well as some of the highest winds in the country, power outages are infrequent, and usually brief.

What we have here is a reactionary locavore mentality scorning the fact that it hasn't gotten everything it wants from a large system that now seeks to do away with its problems by treating electricity like it treats food. But electricity is not food. Whether or not a large corporation is behind its production makes no difference to the quality or environmental impact of an electrical current. Electricity doesn't have to be shipped in from out of state or factory farmed. Xcel has had environmentally-sound policies regarding wind and solar for years, and just because they reneged a fiscally optimistic solar policy during an economic downturn doesn't mean that they are out of touch with the demands of this city.

Admittedly, Xcel's smear campaign against Ballot initiative 2b has irritated me greatly. Personalized YouTube ads envisioning a dystopic Boulder of the future in which power outages are a daily occurrence and married couples speak in unusually pragmatic terms on complex issues remind me constantly that corporations have unsettling political influence. My house has received numerous push poll calls from the company. The time, effort, and funding going to this campaign could all have easily gone to regulating and supplying our town with energy.

But this is not Xcel's fault. If Boulder had not been so arrogantly cocksure about its ability to provide more renewable energy than a national leader in wind and solar energy, they wouldn't have to. Supporters of the proposition claim it will allow Boulder to receive more energy from renewable methods, but the American Wind Energy Association already ranks Colorado as generating the third highest percent of wind energy of any state, with a noticeable center around Boulder. They also recognize the role that Xcel has played in reaching this precipice of renewable energy. The Solar Electric Power Association places Colorado Xcel at the fourth most producing company of solar watts per customer of any company in the nation.

But it's not good enough for Boulder. "We can do better," they claim. Perhaps we can, but I highly doubt that derailing ourselves from the system upon which we have built our renewable efforts will help us achieve this. I also highly doubt the ability of headstrong environmentalists to effectively run a municipal power company. The people of Boulder have noticed a crack in the windshield of their minivan and are now wondering whether or not they should get a new Lamborghini. They don't know how to drive stick, but they're certain they could learn if they wanted to.

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