Over on our Environmental Policy blog, Amy Oliver has written a couple of fantastic posts about Boulder’s municipalization dream. The dream has manifested itself in two ballot measures – 2B and 2C. These ballot measures will determine whether Boulder will cut ties with Xcel energy and start producing its own energy. Like the teenager who has had enough living under Mom and Dad’s roof, Boulder wants to sever the “dirty” energy cord and go off on its own towards a clean energy future. Sounds good right? Well… it’s not that simple.
The first problem is what Amy describes as Boulder’s Utopian Utility Effect. This is when a city believes it can have its cake and eat it too. In Boulder, that means providing all your own “clean” energy AND paying less for it. In reality, Boulder will come to realize that leaving the comfort of Xcel and the PUC means doing it all on your own – on a much smaller scale. With no gains from economies of scale and much less efficient energy sources, energy costs won’t be lower in Boulder. If anything, they’ll be much higher – as much as 15% higher.
Another problem lies in the fact that neither 2B nor 2C requires any of amount of clean energy at all. No one knows how much wind, solar, or natural gas Boulder would end up with if these ballot measures pass. In fact, it is quite conceivable that Boulder “could potentially end up with less renewables” in its power portfolio. Ouch. Furthermore, the idea that tons of natural gas will help reduce carbon emissions and global warming is also not likely. A study by Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that switching from coal to natural gas would do little for climate change. Oops.
Boulder needs to own up to reality. It’s nice to have hopes and aspirations, but they’ve got to be reachable to be meaningful. And at the rate Boulder is going, their fantasies are becoming more and more distant by the day. For example, take a look at this.